Dousing your skin in acid may sound like the stuff of horror movies, but when it comes to effective skincare ingredients, little beats a carefully chosen acid, applied in just the right medical-grade concentration and formulated in just the right clinically-proven technology.
Clogged pores? Fine lines? Acne breakouts? Redness and inflammation? It’s time to say farewell to all of these complexion woes by adding an aptly chosen wonder acid (or two) to your skincare plan. Here’s our hot list of big-hitters we’re all over right now…
1. L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
Some cynics question vitamin C and its topical benefits for the skin. And this is understandable when there are so many OTC ‘pretenders’ out there, so our first and most important piece of advice is to steer clear of the Sephora shelves and head to the derm’s office for some ‘real’ l-ascorbic acid-packed skincare.
While regular ascorbic acid is actually ‘synthetic’ vitamin C, the presence of a ‘l’ in front of it denotes the fact that it has come from natural sources. Why does this matter? Because many studies agree that topical l-ascorbic acid is the most effective at boosting collagen production, fighting free radicals and promoting an overall more youthful-looking complexion.
“There are many vitamin C products available on the market, but clinical research published by SkinCeuticals founding scientist, Dr. Sheldon Pinnell, evaluated the many forms and proved that only L-ascorbic acid, which is pure vitamin C, can penetrate the skin and remain stable and bioavailable,” explains AVP of Global Education at SkinCeuticals, Nicole Simpson.
More advice if you’re looking to add a C-vit into your skincare plan? Choose a formula with at least 10 percent and a maximum pH level of 3.5. Also, make sure your product comes in an airtight, tinted or opaque container because like all vitamin C derivatives, l-ascorbic acid destabilizes and loses its effectiveness in anything but.
Find it in: SkinCeuticals C + AHA
2. Azeliac Acid
While way lesser known, this super-effective anti-inflammatory is up there with glycolic, lactic and salicylic when it comes to hitting acne, scarring and pigmentation where it hurts. Azeliac acid is a naturally-occurring dicarboxylic acid that’s found in grains such as barley, wheat and rye and it works like a natural, bacteria-killing exfoliant to help reduce redness, swelling and inflammation.
It’s also a great acid for rosacea sufferers and perfect for anyone wanting to reduce discoloration.
Find it in: PCA Skin Acne Gel
3. Glycolic Acid
When it comes to boosting cell turnover and maintaining fresh, exfoliated, healthy-looking skin, glycolic acid is a total no-brainer. A true radiance provider, glycolic acid is one of the most effective and highly researched alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) out there. Far superior to harsh scrubs, its main purpose is for breaking the bonds between dead skin cells and sloughing them away to help repair photodamage, smooth fine lines and fade dark spots.
Glycolic is also used in many chemical peels at the doctor’s office which is testament to just how effective it is…
Find it in: Neocutis Neo Cleanse Exfoliating Skin Cleanser
4. Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid (HA), or hyaluronan, is a type of polymer known as a glycosaminoglycan (GAG), and found naturally in the body. Composed partly of sugars, it’s mostly present in the eyes and joints where it functions as a lubricant, but it’s also found in abundance in the skin’s structure where it acts as a powerful humectant – meaning it holds moisture to keep the skin soft, firm, plump and hydrated. Studies have shown that HA can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. Let’s just take a minute to process that. ONE THOUSAND times it’s weight in water. Major league, right? This makes HA one of the best polymers in the world (either natural and synthetic) for retaining moisture. Oh, and it also promotes collagen production, reduces inflammation and fights free radicals as a side-note. No biggy.
Find it in: Jan Marini Skin Research Hyla 3D
5. Lactic Acid
Like glycolic acid, lactic acid is an AHA that helps stimulate exfoliation, as well as collagen and elastin production. Often called the ‘sensitive skin acid,’ it is extracted from milk sugars and works by breaking down and dissolving the structure of dead skin cells to help eliminate discoloration without causing irritation to the skin.
Lactic acid is also known to increase water retention and boost ceramides in the skin’s protective barrier which is a bonus for dry, dehydrated or sensitive skin types. As with all acids, however, too much of a good thing may lend itself to irritation, so if you are super-sensitive, stick to using a lactic acid-based product once or twice a week only.
Find it in: ZO Skin Health Exfoliation Accelerator
6. Ferulic Acid
Ferulic acid is a plant-based antioxidant, derived from the cell walls of the seeds of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. It’s found abundantly in rice, wheat, apples, oranges, peanuts, even coffee, and on its own has been proven to be more potent than many other antioxidants. Its biggest impact, however, comes from combining it with other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. How so? Because together they work synergistically to become more stable and therefore more effective.
Find it in: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
7. Mandelic Acid
Another gentle AHA, mandelic acid is extracted from bitter almonds and, while its antibacterial qualities are extremely helpful in treating acne-prone skin, it has also been proven to reduce melasma by up to 50 percent in just four weeks. Impressive stuff, right? Due to its larger size and shallower penetration, mandelic acid is way more tolerable for sensitive skin than the likes of glycolic acid, but it still has superhero-like abilities in accelerating cellular turnover, getting rid of dead skin cells and promoting collagen and elastin production.
Find it in: Vivant Skincare Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Wash
8. Malic Acid
Found in abundance in the body, malic acid is a mild AHA that’s extracted from unripe fruit and vegetables for use in skincare. Like all of our exfoliating, pore-unclogging AHA friends, malic acid boasts a bunch of skin-loving benefits, including reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while improving poor texture and uneven skin tone. It also decreases the production of melanin so is a good one for anyone with issues with discoloration.
Malic acid is considered to be most effective when combined with other acids such as glycolic or salicylic.
Find it in: SkinMedica Rejuvenative Toner
9. Retinoic Acid
Like retinol, topical retinoic acid (otherwise known as tretinoin) comes under the retinoid umbrella. Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that work to topically target concerns like wrinkles, sun damage, hyperpigmentation and milia (small white bumps that form like little cysts when dead skin gets trapped below the skin’s surface). Retinoids stimulate the skin to turnover more efficiently, and they help soften it by thinning the outermost layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum. They can also visibly improve the plumpness of your skin by increasing the presence of skin-nourishing glycosaminoglycans, (GAGs).
Retinoic acid is seen as the gold standard of retinoids, but it’s only available on prescription and some patients simply can’t tolerate its superpowers. This is why retinol was born. Retinol is a precursor of retinoic acid and has to go through two steps before it becomes retinoic acid. As a result of this processing, retinol doesn’t create as many side effects as retinoic acid – if any at all – and this is why it’s the darling of many anti-aging products.
10. Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, or a BHA if you will. Unlike their water-soluble AHA cousins, BHAs are oil-soluble substances, meaning they can penetrate into your pores to exfoliate your skin on a much deeper level. BHAs are used in skincare to cut through any excess oil that may be clogging your pores, as well as for getting rid of dead skin cells, correcting dark spots and improving the skin’s overall texture.
Salicylic acid is undoubtedly the biggest player in the BHA world and is found in willow bark and sweet birch. It has awesome antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it perfect for treating acne-prone skin. That’ll be why you’ll be hard pushed to comes across any medical-grade acne treatment that doesn’t contain it.
Find it in: CLn Acne Cleanser