Deciphering Skin Acids: Everything You Need to Know to Level-up Your Skincare Routine

By Vivian Wang | The BFF Mag

For the uninitiated, including acid in your skincare regimen may seem ridiculous (after all, isn’t that what turned Harvey Dent into Two-Faced in Batman? No thank you!). But the truth is, facial acids can actually be extremely efficacious for your skin: removing dead skin cells to reveal fresh, glowing skin underneath! There are many different types of facial acids that you can include in your skincare routine, and depending on your skin type, some might give you better results than others. We’re going to give a beginning to end educational rundown on how you can add a little acid to your life! We promise your skin will thank you for it.

Salicylic Acid (Acne Fighting)
If you are looking for a product to kick your acne problem in the butt, keep an eye out for any face washes or serums that contain salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA)—the molecular structure of BHAs make them more oil soluble and able to penetrate deep into your pores. This means that salicylic acid can give your skin a good deep clean by exfoliating and unclogging your pores to wipe out white and black heads.

Glycolic Acid (Normal)
Glycolic acid is the perfect acid for almost any skin type. It’s claim-to-fame is its rejuvenating, anti-aging properties. Glycolic acid has been proven to improve the appearance of spots, scars, and wrinkles and brighten otherwise dull skin. Environmental damage to your skin is unfortunately a fact of life, so sometimes your skin just needs a little extra boost to stimulate new cell growth, which results in newer, healthier skin with improved skin texture. Glycolic acid has also been shown to jumpstart collagen and elastin production in the skin, both of which are key to supple, strong, and soft skin.

Hyaluronic Acid (Hydrating)
This sounds like “hydration”, which is a good way to remember what this acid does for your skin. Everyone knows that hydration is the key to beautiful skin, but somehow those naughty little dry patches always seem to show up unannounced—this is your skin simply struggling to retain consistent moisture in the area. Hyaluronic acid is known as a super hydrator, so this could be your dry-skin cure. This ingredient is likely to be found in daily moisturizers or serums. Hyaluronic acid has also been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines while hydrating, softening, and plumping your skin. Say #yas to anti-aging and plump hydrated skin.

Mandelic Acid (Anti-Aging)
Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bitter almonds and you can find it many anti-aging skincare products. Its molecular structure is much larger than other AHAs, like Glycolic Acid, which means it takes longer to penetrate the skin and is therefore gentler. This lack of skin irritation is one of the major differences between Mandelic Acid and other popular AHAs, and is also why it’s the perfect acid for beginners. It’s a safer acid to integrate into your skincare regimen if you’re exploring on your own. Mandelic Acid increases cell turnover, removes dead cells, and treats conditions like photo-ageing, irregular pigmentation, and acne. Cell turnover means the reduction of fine lines and quick visible brightening results.

Lactic Acid (Gentle)
If you’re an athlete, you probably hear this and cringe. Lactic Acid as something you’ve always wanted to avoid at all costs, yet here we are talking about putting it on your face. Here’s the thing: Lactic Acid is a gentle exfoliating AHA that dermatologists actually recommend for all skin types, even sensitive skin. It increases the ceramides in the skin's protective barrier, which helps increase water retention, while preventing pore congestion and improving irregular pigmentation.

Azelaic Acid (Sensitive)
This acid isn’t as strong as some of the others, so it’s ideal for those of us with more sensitive skin. Due to its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, Azelaic Acid is great for those afflicted by skin conditions like acne and rosacea in particular. It goes into overdrive to clean bacteria from your pores and reduce keratin production, which is a protein that can lead to acne. And when it’s just one of those days (ahem, Monday morning), Azelaic Acid’s anti-inflammatory properties can reduce redness and swelling, so you can put that concealer away.

Kojic Acid (Dark Spots)
If you are battling dark marks, brown spots or dull skin, Kojic Acid is for you. It limits the overproduction of melanin, which is what causes your uneven skin tone, hence why Kojic Acid is used primarily as a skin lightening agent. It is included in products as a means of lightening visible sun damage, age spots, dark marks, or scars, so be sure to look for it in your toners, night creams, essences, or serums. Its work is best done at night.

Ascorbic Acid (Brightening)
Ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C with major antioxidant benefits. It’s particularly helpful in preventing sun damage because these antioxidants protect the skin from harmful free radicals that come from the sun’s UV light. This means the reduction in wrinkles, sunspots, and even protection against skin cancer. However, Ascorbic Acid might be best known for its skin brightening properties, as it interferes with pigment production (which creates dark marks on your skin) and also keeps inflammation at bay. Think of Ascorbic Acid as a vitamin C shot for a more vibrant complexion.

Retinoic Acid (Anti-Aging)
Retinol creams are all the rage these days. This anti-aging wonder hails from a class of topical Vitamin A-based formulations—it’s fine lines and wrinkle reduction properties are known far and wide for good reason. Its other anti-aging effects include fading age spots and stimulating blood vessels in the skin to create a rosier complexion. Retinoic Acid also increases production of new collagen resulting in more supple, firmer skin. When spread on the skin, retinoids can unclog pores, allowing other medicated creams and gels to work better. For moderate to severe acne that has been stubborn and resistant to other treatments, consider introducing a retinoid into your skincare routine to help treatments penetrate your skin deeper. Be sure to only use retinoids at night or stay out of the sun after use, because the Vitamin A inherent in retinoids makes your skin extremely sensitive to UV sun damage.

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