The Ultimate Guide to Acids: Why Acids Need to Be A Part of your Skin Care Routine
Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, nearly every product we turn over features one, if not many, skin care acids. But which one is right for you? Instead of checking back into high school chem class, we turned to an expert! To help guide us through the world of skin care acids, we chatted with board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com expert, Dr. Lisa Ginn.
What’s the Difference Between AHA and BHA?
The main acids we talk about in skin care are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). AHAs are known to help chemically exfoliate the skin to rid the surface of dead skin cells, oil, and other buildup, and come from sources like fruit, plants, and milk. AHAs also often feature some kind of humectant property which makes them a good bet for dry skin. BHA—otherwise known as salicylic acid—on the other hand, while also exfoliating, is a bit stronger and can be a tad drying, which is why it’s most-often used in products for acne-prone or oily skin.
“This is a beta-hydroxy acid, commonly used for acne, and it can be drying,” Ginn says. The acid works by unclogging pores and loosening the buildup of dead skin from skin’s surface. Dr. Ginn’s favorite product with salicylic acid is SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense, which is for aging skin that’s prone to breakouts. “This helps not only the acne, but also with aging, so it hits that woman in my patient population that’s wondering why she’s still struggling with acne,” she says.
“This is the most common fruit acid,” Ginn says. “It comes from sugar cane.” She says that glycolic acid helps with dull, lackluster complexions as well as adult acne. “It’s formulated in a host of things from creams, to serums, to cleansers, because it’s easy to stabilize.” Be warned, she says if you’re going to use glycolic acid in your skin care routine you’ll want to be sure not to use everything glycolic, balance it out with gentle, hydrating products.
Lipo Hydroxy Acid (LHA)
When it comes to LHA, Ginn likes this acid for its drying properties and recommends it for anyone that deals with acne or combination/oily skin.
Sometimes acid is a misnomer because you think exfoliating and drying, but with hyaluronic acid your skin is getting just the opposite! “Everyone needs moisture,” Ginn says. “I love hyaluronic acid because it’s a potent humectant that holds 1000 times its weight in water.” If you’re looking to hydrate, turn to hyaluronic.
“This acid comes from milk and legend says that Cleopatra bathed in it,” Ginn says. “The acid strips off excess dead surface skin and binds with water. I use it on skin that looks dull or has breakouts, the kind of skin that, if you do too much to it, will become sensitive and dry.”
“Another name for vitamin C, l-asorbic acid is found in foods and powders and doesn’t always stabilize well in liquids,” Ginn says. “This acid can be irritating for skin that’s never used it before and you’ll also want to get it in a brown bottle because it will lose its stability if exposed to sunlight.” She recommends always looking for vitamin C in serum form and turns out, her favorite vitamin C serum is also ours. In fact, if Dr. Ginn could only pick one skin care acid to use in her own routine, l-asorbic acid would be her choice. “By nature, antioxidants help to control aging, they help to fade the look of dark spots, and in the right formulation, they can be hydrating.”
Again, we have an acid misnomer. “Ferulic acid is one of the most potent antioxidants,” Ginn says. “It’s one of the first to have strong results and science behind it.”
“This AHA comes from grapeseed,” Ginn explains. While it’s supposed to be used on sensitive skin, she warns to be careful if you do have sensitive skin because sometimes you can have a reaction to it.
How Often Should You Use Acids
“If you’re using retinol, only use AHAs once a day, if you’re not using retinols you can use fruit acids twice a day,” Ginn says. “A little tingling is fine, but excessive burning, redness, or itchiness means your skin is becoming irritated and this is not okay. It means what you’re using is too strong and you should decrease the frequency of use or the percentage of acid. I don’t believe in no pain, no gain.”