Acids For Skincare: A Beginner’s Guide

If you flip the bottle of your moisturizer, facewash, or serum, you’d definitely find a label disclosing the ingredients with acids, active agents that the product incorporates (if it doesn’t then you probably shouldn’t be using them). Those ingredients typically are acids. Now the idea of slathering acids in your skin might sound like a recipe for disaster. And indeed some skincare class acids might be too harsh for it. But only some. As a matter of fact, when accurately formulated, acids are the elixir to achieve smooth, radiant, flawless skin. Well if you know how to properly use it, they are. 

What Are Acids? How Do They Work?

Acids, in the world of skincare, are the active ingredient that corrects and balances the pH level of the skin. In your quest to healthy skin, acid puts your skin in an acidic state which works as it exfoliates dead skin cells off of your face. Many different acids work in many different ways for many different unique skin targets. This can range any problematic skin conditions. Acids have the power to zap zits, acne, eczema, lift hyperpigmentation or dark patches, and even erase signs of ageing such as wrinkles or fine lines. 

Understandably, it can get a little frustrating to decide between products, with so many different acids, that adamantly promise the same result. But don’t worry, you can easily distinguish between the products when you know what goes into what. In the end, if understood correctly, acids, by all means, deliver intense hydration and a healthy glow to the skin almost instantaneously. 

How Important Is It To Understand The Acids That Goes In My Product?

Although it might seem like studying for an intimidating high school chemistry class, it is incredibly important to pause and understand the ingredients that you are applying to your skin. Because some skincare grade acids sometimes need to be eased in. As there are some acids like paraben, sulfate, and formaldehyde that might spark sensitivity to some skin types. However, by knowing exactly the type of acids there are in your skincare product, and more importantly, exactly by understanding their function can never go wrong with any skincare product.

Now there is an array of different acids in the ingredient list. And it can get a little frustrating to wrap our heads every single of them. So we will now only discuss the most common must-know acids and active ingredient that are leading in the skincare industry:

1. Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA): 

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You may have seen a lot of your skincare bottle having the ‘AHA’ tag. But what exactly is it?

Alpha Hydroxy Acids is more commonly known from the tag AHA. This acid is a water-soluble chemical compound extracted from naturally occurring substances like plants or dairy. They work by dissolving the glue that holds skin cells together to whisk away the dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. Since they are naturally derived, the acids very gently and evenly break the bond that holds dead skin together apart without any irritation in the skin. So if used regularly over time, the AHAs will boost the collagen production which will in turn nourish your skin and give you a youthful glow.   

How Do I Find AHA In My Skincare Product’s Ingredient List?

There are a lot of acids that fall under the group of Alpha Hydroxy Acid. The most common ones that are typically used in a skincare product are Glycolic acid, Lactic acid, Citric acid, Malic acid, Tartaric acid, and Mandelic acid. Now all of these have their own specific targets which we will now discuss briefly.

Glycolic Acid:


Among all, Glycolic Acid takes the highest position since it is the most researched and has the most impressive benefit for almost every skin type. What marks Glycolic acid more magnificent than the rest is its ability to penetrate through the surface of the skin and train the skin beneath to retain natural moisture. This makes the skin look naturally radiant, firm, and hydrated. 

Lactic Acid:

Now, Lactic acid almost holds the same amount of admiration as Glycolic acid. But falls because of its slower affecting pace back a little. A lower percentage of Lactic acid is incredible to boost natural hydration of the skin giving it a fresher look. However, when used at a higher percentage, it works as a strong exfoliant. 

Malic acid: 

Malic acid is mostly derived from apples and sometimes made synthetically. You will probably never find it as a serum of its own since it has a larger composition than the above counterparts. At its lower percentage, it works excellently with carrier AHAs as Glycolic and lactic acid. 

Tartaric Acid: 


Along with all the blessings that come with being an AHA, Tartaric acid has a unique advantage of aiding to maintain a suitable pH level for each skin type. Like Malic acid, Tartaric acid also needs a leader or a partner AHA. So by maintaining a certain pH, tartaric acids help other AHA to work more efficiently, yet gently. It also eases the process of positive transformation which enables the product to work at a faster pace.

Citric Acid:

Obvious from its name, Citric acid is derived from citrus fruits like lemon, oranges, and even berries! It is an excellent exfoliator that adds luster to the skin. And with its antioxidant properties, it is a strong warrior that combats pollution, oil, dirt, and all the external intruders that renders havoc in the skin. Overall citric acid is the best at brightening dull skin.

Mandelic Acid:

This acid isn’t much common in typical skincare products. However, it is one of the most effective when it comes to catering to a sensitive skin type. Since it has the largest chemical compound of all it’s counterparts, it barely penetrates the surface of the skin which works wonders on highly sensitive skin. Mandelic Acid serves even better to dry sensitive skin as it is known to trigger oil production at the surface of the skin. So it wonderfully serves people with dry skin wanting the famous ‘glass skin’ effect since it adds a smooth, translucent effect. However, if you have very oily skin then it’s better to stay away from this acid.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA):

Beta Hydroxy Acids or BHA, similar to Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) works to remove the dirt and dead skin cells from the skin but since the BHA is oil-based it penetrates deeper into the pores. The BHS dissolves any dead skin or sebum that layers the skin and gets through the clogged pores and prevents hyperpigmentations or scarring. And with its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, BHA also can calm red irritated skin. While BHAs can be used for different targets of any skin type, like AHAs, it is better suited to people of normal to oily skin with congested pores. So, if used properly BHA is the magic ingredient that is both tough enough to treat skin problems like milia and mild enough to tend sensitive skin. 

How Do I Find BHA In My Skincare Product’s Ingredient List?

Finding BHA in a skincare product is very easy. All you have to do is look for Salicylic Acid. Salicylic acid is the most commonly used form of BHA. Other than that you can also look for Beta-Hydroxybutyric acid, Tropic acid, and Trethocanic acid, which are a bit uncommon but not so difficult to distinguish since it has the word beta in front of it. Salicylic acid is known for its versatile benefits for combating a lot of skin problems. It is known to heal acne and eczema to signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines and improving the overall quality of the skin without causing any type of rare irritations as brought by AHAs.  

Polyhydroxy Acid (PHA):

Polyhydroxy Acids, also known as PHA, are the second generation of the chemical exfoliant Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA). It also tones and smoothens skin by removing the dirt and dead skin cells from the face. But here’s a catch, since PHA is a second-generation acid, it is much milder than both AHA and BHA. In addition, it doesn’t develop increasing sun sensitivity, unlike other acids. Regular use of PHA strengthens the elasticity of the skin, and represses the iron production which delays the signs of aging: like wrinkles and fine lines, and plumps the skin. 

How Do I Find PHA In My Skincare Product’s Ingredient List?

To distinguish Polyhydroxy Acid, the most common names you should look at are under the names of gluconolactone and Lactobionic. It might seem impossible to remember but remember that PHA is the second generation AHA. That means the names closely resemble acids typically known as AHAs like gluconic and lactic acid. Looking at the particular above acid you can see that ‘gluconolactone’ is derived from the gluconic acid itself. Similarly, Lactobionic is derived from lactic i.e. milk sugar. Choke-full of antioxidant properties, the main function of gluconolactone is that it reduces pigmentation and fine lines. And Lactobionic acid which is known for its water-binding abilities provides immense hydration for the skin.

All in all, Polyhydroxy acids are best at exfoliating the surface of the skin and helping the skin to present a glowy, dewy look.

How Often Should I Use Acids: AHAs, BHAs, PHAs?

Acids in your skincare products are always tested and are absolutely safe to use. However, even when acids are skincare grade, some serum needs to be eased in. So it’s recommended to introduce the product gradually into your routine. And always, ALWAYS, shield your face with sunscreen after you use acids in your skin. This is incredibly important must step since using acids regularly can make your skin a bit UV/ sun sensitive. 

Sun sensitivity?! Does acid make my skin sensitive to the sun? Are there any more risk factors?

Acids do its work primarily by exfoliating the skin. So naturally overusing acids, mostly AHAs, in the pursuit of “the flawless skin” isn’t recommended. As it can cause the skin to be photosensitive, trigger quick hyperpigmentation, and thin the skin. Try to be mindful of the acids you are slathering on your face, and it’s concentration. So that there is nothing to worry about. Let your skin work with one active ingredient at a time. If you know you have very sensitive skin, try substituting AHAs with Beta Hydroxy Acids, or even better Polyhydroxy Acids. 

Can Everybody Use Acids?

Again acids in your skincare product are completely safe. But if you have got very inflamed, irritated, or open skin then it is highly recommended not to use any. And if you have a darker skin tone then it is highly recommended for you to look out for the acids that can cause unwanted skin discolouration. To stay on a safer side, you always should consult a dermatologist before you try any new acids or even skincare products!

Why Do a Patch Test?

There are some skincare products that might just not be suitable for you. You might have an allergic reaction to it which may cause chemical peeling, blistering, irritation. And using a new product, you are opening the door to possibly all of those skin disasters. So to predict your skin’s response to a new product and make sure nothing terrible happens you need to do a patch test. 

How Do I Perform A Patch Test At Home?


Performing a patch test is a very simple at-home procedure. It only requires you to test the product on the back of your ear and the inside of your arm. The reason why you test the new product in those areas is that those areas are very delicate and almost resemble the skin in your face so the result is highly accurate. And no, you will not require any alcohol pad or anything fancy to clean those areas first. As to give enough time for your skin to react before you confirm it. Wait a minimum of twenty-four hours. However, it is preferable to wait for forty-eight or seventy-two hours.

Are There Any Natural Alternatives to Synthetic Acid?


With skincare businesses being more and more commercialized and expensive, sometimes it feels like we’ve started to pay a lot more for the brand name rather than the ingredients in the products. Many skincare products are mass-produced and packed with chemical synthetics and toxins for companies. Therefore, people are slowly shifting from shops to their pantry for their skincare needs. And without a doubt, there are many benefits of using fresh and organic ingredients. So, if you are looking into natural home-based remedies for your everyday skincare then feel free to check our top ten natural ingredients that nourish the skin from the inside out. 

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