Acids 101: Everything You Need to Know About Skincare’s Hottest Ingredient

Think you know everything you need to know about acids? The reality is there are so many out there how could any of us possibly know what to use and when? It’s time to take a closer look at skincare’s little darlings, and set the record straight on all things AHAs, BHAs, glycolic and everything in between.

Ascorbic Acid

AKA, vitamin C. Vitamin C is probably one of the most highly recommended skin care products thanks to published studies that show it’s a powerful antioxidant that is effective in anti-aging. This acid powerhouse promotes collagen production, lightens hyperpigmentation and dark spots, evens out skin tone, and repairs the skin from sun damage. We love a good vitamin C serum used after cleansing, but before moisturizing to give the skin a firmer, brighter look.

Citric Acid

An alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) extracted from citrus fruits, citric acid has the same exfoliating properties as many other AHAs with the added benefit of antioxidants which protect against damage from the sun and other environmental factors. It also has natural astringent powers making it a great choice for people with oily skin or acne. 

Glycolic Acid

This is an AHA derived naturally from sugarcane that is found in cleansers, serums and exfoliating peels. It is especially effective in treating both aging and acne issues thanks to its ability to penetrate the outer layer of the skin and increase cell turnover. When used twice a week in the evening, a peel treatment containing glycolic acid will dissolve dead skin and remove excess oil and build-up, revealing brighter more radiant skin.

Hyaluronic Acid

Technically an acid due to its pH levels, hyaluronic acid is really a sugar molecule that is able to absorb thousands of times its own weight in water, trapping moisture on the skin’s surface and leaving the skin highly moisturized. You name it and hyaluronic acid serums handle it: hydrates, protects, tightens, smooths, reduces fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation, and stimulates cell growth.

Lactic Acid

An alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) originally derived from the sugar and starch in fermented milk, this surface-level exfoliant lightens and brightens skin and increases the rate of cell turnover while reducing the look of fine lines and wrinkles. This AHA also reduces hyperpigmentation and acne lesions while killing some types of acne causing bacteria.

Malic Acid

An alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally derived from apples and pears, malic acid is a great choice for people whose skin is sensitive to other AHAs. It releases dead skin cells, revealing younger looking skin, without penetrating as deeply as some other chemical exfoliants. It also acts as a humectant, attracting water and increasing skin’s moisture level.

Retinoids (Retinol, Retin-A, Retinyl Palmitate)

Used to describe a group of compounds derived from vitamin A, they speed up cell turnover rates, unclog pores and are used to treat acne. By exfoliating the skin on a cellular level, boosting collagen and fiber production, and balancing oil production, retinoids should be included in any anti-aging skincare routine. Ideally look for retinoids in ultra-rich moisturizers that help heal and hydrate the skin.