5 skin acids you should be using
Every Sex and the City fan can remember Samantha Jones’ first experience with acid—of the skin variety.
It might be 15 years since her red-raw skin debuted on TV, but the word ‘acid’ used in conjunction with ‘skin’ still sends shivers down some spines.
The truth is, acids such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and salicylic acid do have the ability to dissolve a layer of dead skin in one simple swipe—but with zero burn and zero downtime. And that’s just the beginning of their charm; in the last few years AHAs and every acid in between has kicked it up a gear, making them the unsurpassable superheroes of the skincare world.
Here, a refresher on the cult classics and an introduction to the new-gen buys worth knowing.
Widely regarded as the holy grail of acids, glycolic acid can be used to tackle most skin ageing gripes including fine lines, pigmentation, lacklustre skin, uneven texture and dryness. The ultimate exfoliator, it sloughs off dulling dead skin cells and improves cellular renewal revealing a youthful, radiant complexion. Found in everything from peels and moisturisers to body lotions and serums, it’s the AHA with the smallest molecular size meaning it’s able to penetrate the skin easily and yield the best results. Glycolic can be used daily—though, as with all acids, follow the instructions religiously and ease your skin in. Most experts advise introducing acid every 2-3 days to start with, building up to daily use over four weeks. Due to the low pH of AHAs, it’s not unusual to experience a light tingling sensation when applied.
Find it in: Elucent Anti-Ageing Night Moisturiser and Dr. LeWinn’s Reversaderm Cellular Regeneration Cream
As the main player in beta hydroxy acids (BHA) realm, salicylic acid has the weight of the world—aka the pressure to decongest our skin—on its shoulders. It’s able to deliver thanks to a molecular structure that makes it oil-soluble, allowing it to deep-dive into congested pores, nixing blackheads and reducing breakouts. A hero ingredient for those battling adult acne, it’s become the MVP for oily skin types and also summer skin routines, too. Why the seasonal switch? Salicylic acid can cut through sebum, oil and sunscreen, providing a deep pore purge.
Another AHA, lactic acid offers a gentler form of chemical exfoliant with added moisturising benefits—thanks to the fact that it’s derived from milk. Not to be confused with lactobionic acid—a mild and minimally-invasive skin resurfacer from the polyhydroxy acid family—lactic acid still packs a punch for a sensitive skin-friendly acid. Its principal objective is to reveal clearer, more radiant skin. Some skincare relies exclusively on lactic acid, others up the AHA ante by teaming lactic acid with glycolic for a turbo-charged anti-ageing hit.
Leading the charge in the ‘other acids’ category—the one someone forgot to come up with a catchy acronym for—is ferulic acid. A powerhouse antioxidant, it’s found in plants, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Proven to fight and reduce free-radical damage when applied topically, it’s a no-brainer addition to your anti-ageing skin routine. Suitable for all skin types, with the exception of the hypersensitive, you can often find ferulic acid paired with retinol for a 360-approach to ageing—FYI you should never use retinol with AHAs or BHA. The two don’t mix and cause redness and irritation when used together.
Find it in: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
The ‘acid’ in hyaluronic acid (HA) is a little deceiving. Exempt from any of the exfoliating/skin cell dissolving qualities that you’ll find with AHAs and BHA, HA instead tackles hydration. A natural humectant, it’s hailed as a superior ingredient for its ability to hold 1,000 times its weight in water. This moisture-binding becomes particularly beneficial as you age and skin loses its ability to hold moisture. Used in skincare to restore moisture, firmness, plumpness and suppleness, hyaluronic acid is also routinely added to cosmetics to boost hydration, plump and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.
Main image credit: @chey_maya
Do you use any acids in your rouinte? If so, which do you like?