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Types of Face Acids and How It Affects Your Skin

Facial acids are fundamental to a healthy, youthful skin.

woman applying face acids
credit image: Sperling Dermatology

The term “acid” connotes bubbling test tubes and images of horrifying chemical burns. However, experts assure that when they are used  at the right concentration, acids can be very beneficial as skin care ingredients.

Acids are amazing elements to fight acne, scarring, uneven skin tone, age spots, and wrinkles. But with thousands of skin products available on the market, it can be very overwhelming to remember which ones to choose and for what cause, and which products to get. But before this, one must know where to start. And knowing and understanding face acids and how they work is a good start.

Hyaluronic acid is a moisturizing acid for skin.

For a start, Hyaluronic acid is good for dull, aging skin. And if you have dry skin problems, consider hyaluronic acid. This acid is a humectant which means that it helps skin attract and retain moisture. It is naturally produced in the body and it helps provide the skin a youthful radiance. However, as we get older, the amount of hyaluronic acid that our body produces decreases can cause dull-looking skin. The skin care products that contain hyaluronic acid helps improve the ability of the skin to absorb and hold water to keep it hydrated. Skin experts are recommending to blend hyaluronic acid serums into your evening skin care regime, for about 3 to 4 times every week. This acid is generally tolerated by most types of skin.

Some research shows that hyaluronic acid can be effective in treating acne scars, depending on how you use it, whether by injectable filler, or as a topical treatment. A study conducted in 2013, researchers learned that patients with acne scars experienced and “immediate visual improvement” after using hyaluronic acid injections.

Hence, if used as an injectable filler, hyaluronic acid works well in treating acne scars as it generated immediate and measurable improvement that lasts for many months. This helps individuals with acne scarring enjoy an improved look and confidence.

If this acid is used topically, it is difficult to claim that hyaluronic acid works as a treatment for acne scars. It may be an effective treatment on its own, but there are not sufficient scientific proof to claim this with any level of assurance. But this does not mean that topical hyaluronic acid is not effective, just that there are not adequate scientific data to prove that it works right now.


Skinceuticals’ Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier

Neutrogena Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Face Moisturizer Gel-Cream

Beta Hydroxy Acid/Salicylic acid is very effective for treating acne.

Beta Hydroxy acid/Salicylic acid is best for unclogging pores for those with oily and acne-prone skin.

Unlike the Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), the beta hydroxy acid (BHA) binds to oil, not water. And the most popular BHA used as skin care is salicylic acid that performs as a deep exfoliator in the skin. It is oil-soluble and has the ability to break through the accumulation of oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells in the pore lining and dissolve it. This results to unclogging pores and preventing breakouts.

BHA tends to penetrate deeper than the AHA, and so they are a good choice for oily or acne-prone skin. But individuals with sensitive skin should use it with caution because it can be drying.

Skin experts suggests using salicylic acid at night time, unless one is applying a retinoid in the evening. Experts do not recommend using retinoids and salicylic acid together to minimize the possibility of dryness and irritation. So, if you apply salicylic acid during the day, be sure to use a sunscreen over it.


Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting Exfoliant

Tea Tree Clear Skin Serum

CeraVe SA Lotion 

Alpha Hydroxy Acid/Glycolic Acid

The alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are good ingredients for exfoliating,skin brightening, and improving mild textural concerns. 

AHAs are acids are made from food and plant sources such as fruits, milk, and sugar. There are many different types of AHAs that are used for skin care products including mandelic (derived from plants), citric (from citrus fruits), lactic acid (from milk), and the most popular is the glycolic acid (from sugar).

Because of its exfoliating properties, AHAs are good for improving textural concerns (such as hyperpigmentation from sun exposure), and skin brightening. And since AHAs are water soluble, they do not absorb the pores as deeply, hence they are good choices for tackling surface skin concerns. AHAs are generally tolerated by most skin types, however, skin experts say that individuals with sensitive skin should use AHA with caution because they can cause irritation.

Glycolic acid is the most common AHA. It is derived from sugar cane and the smallest AHA, hence, the most effective at penetrating into the skin. This acid is also best as anti-aging agent. It is effective at minimizing fine lines, exfoliating skin, preventing acne, boosting skin thickness, fading dark spots, and evening out skin tone and texture. Glycolic acid is also used in peels for addressing acne and pigmentation. Sometimes in combination with microneedling and microdermabrasion, but with glycolic acid, it increases sun sensitivity even when it is not on the skin. You will need to apply sunscreen to prevent sun damage.

This is why most skin care products contain this acid and it is commonly used below 10% concentrations.


Glycolic Acid Face Wash

Glycolic Acid Face Wash Exfoliating Cleanser

Vitamin C/Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is recommended as an antioxidant protection, brightening skin, and collagen stimulant.

This acid is a potent antioxidant which is commonly found in exfoliants, moisturizers, and serums. It helps shield your skin against free radical damage due to environmental factors including the sun and pollution. This vitamin C also helps prevent signs of aging by increasing collagen synthesis and brighten and even skin tone. Experts suggest using this vitamin in serum in the morning before applying moisturizer and sunscreen. Always remember to apply skin care products from the thinnest to thickest. Ascorbic acid or vitamin C is generally tolerated by all types of skin. It also works well if you want to address some concerns on hyperpigmentation.

Skin experts also recommend to watch out for particular kind of vitamin C – tetrahexydecyl or THD ascorbate – a stable type of vitamin C for skin care. This is because it i fat-soluble and can absorb deeper than the water-soluble forms to stimulate collagen. Continuing studies are still in progress to confirm this theory. 


Eva Naturals Vitamin C Serum

LilyAna Vitamin C Moisturizer

Amara Beauty Vitamin C Serum

Important Tips

Before you start with your skin care acid regime, be sure that you understand how the system can affect your skin. Avoid skin care products that may result to more irritation. Some experts recommend using any acid treatment at night when your skin cells are repairing and it is not subjected to sun and other environmental pollutants. And if you are applying acids during day time, be sure that you have your sunscreen on.

Also, in addressing your skin care concerns, always remember that “there- is-no-one-size” that fits all. Some acids may not be recommended for individuals with sensitive types of skin, or with people with some skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis. It is always best to consult with a dermatologist before you program your skin care regime that includes face acids.

There are several acids that offer multiple benefits. And because they can come in different formulation, you may use more than one acid. The brands will always promote the active acids contained in toners, cleansers, serums, and many more. Always check the ingredients on the label to be sure that the acid is the active ingredient. The active ingredients are those listed near the top, and not at the very end of the list. 

Never mix face acids.

  • Avoid using AHAs with retinol.
  • Never use salicylic acid with other acid simultaneously. This may cause extreme skin irritation.
  • Avoid using salicylic acid with skin care products that have niacinamide.
  • Do not use glycolic acid or lactic acid in combination with ascorbic acid or vitamin C. This may cause the benefits in ascorbic acid will disappear even before it starts to work.

Organize your acids between daytime and night time use. For instance, you may use salicylic acid in the daytime and another acid at nighttime. You will be able to get the benefits of both acids if you use them at separate applications.

If you are afraid of face acids, you may consider using a wash. This is also true to those who have not used acids before.

Avoid applying acid peel at home. Generally, acids may not necessarily going to hurt but if you are using a moisturizer or face wash with an acid, it may tingle a little bit – for a short time. If you are getting a professional chemical peel, it may tingle for a bit longer. But if you are using DIY acid peels late in the evening, it will really hurt. Be careful using your own medical-grade DIY peel at home. You will experience severe burns, scarring, and permanent damage to your skin.

How can you say if your face acids are working for you? Acids should clearly brighten and even out your skin. You will observe pigmentation, unevenness lessen, and freckling over time. You may not “feel” anything, but skin should be smoother to your touch after a period of regular use. You will also know if you have overused acids as you will notice that your skin will look irritated, red, dry, and itchy. If this happens, immediately discontinue the use of the product for several days and boost your application of moisture.

Avoid scrubbing your face with pineapples and oranges, hoping that you are pampering your skin with a fruit peel. Skin experts do not recommend it, not even using organic fruit. It may be possible, but it is not advisable.

So, which acids should you use?

Selecting the acid to use is the difficult part and the easiest way to go about it is by knowing and understanding the skin problem you want to address:

Salicylic acid, azelaic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid – are recommended for acne-prone skin.

Ascorbic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, ferulic acid – are good for mature skin.

Glycolic acid, azelaic acid, ascorbic acid, linoleic acid, lactic acid, ferulic acid, kojic acid – are recommended for fading pigmentation.

Take note, also that the higher the concentration is, the more likely the acid will cause irritation Be sure to do patch text and begin with a lower concentration before moving up.

Did you find the content useful and helpful? Leave us a message or share your thoughts about exfoliating. We love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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Written by Maria

My passion is helping other people overcome the pain and embarrassment of acne. I have dealt with acne since my teenage years and know first-hand how hard it is to suffer from this condition.

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