Woman using skincare with a cotton pad on face

The idea of using acids on your skin can seem a little frightening at first, especially since the term has such harsh connotations. 

However, acids aren’t all bad…

In fact, not only are there certain skin-boosting acids that are produced by the body itself, but many of the others used in skin care are naturally-derived. 

No matter what your skin type may be, acids can be extremely beneficial, so long as you are using the right acid for the right purpose. 

Ascorbic Acids

Vitamin C comes in many different forms, one of which is ascorbic acid, and there is plenty of research out there that points to ascorbic acid being the most powerful vitamin C derivative when it comes to skin care. 

In fact, it is the most-researched form of vitamin C available, which is why it is incorporated into so many different skin care products. 

What exactly does ascorbic acid do for the skin? 

It brings with it a number of different benefits, including:

  • Boosts the skin’s production of collagen, resulting in a smoother and firmer complexion 
  • Has antioxidant properties, which have been explained in more detail below 
  • Brightens the skin tone 
  • Reduces dark spots and hyperpigmentation, evening out the skin tone 
  • Repairs skin damage caused by sun exposure 
  • Protects the skin from UV damage 
  • Can help to fade scars in some cases

As you can see, this is quite a versatile ingredient, although it does tend to be favored by those looking for anti-aging results. 

Hyaluronic Acid

There aren’t many acids that can be used by all skin types, but hyaluronic acid is one of these. 

While several of the skin care acids have an exfoliating effect, hyaluronic acid has a powerful hydrating and moisturizing effect

This is an acid that is naturally produced  by the body, but the rate at which it is produced declines with age. 

Wondering what hyaluronic acid actually does? 

It is a humectant, meaning that it is able to draw in moisture from the environment around it, and has the ability to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. In fact, just one gram of hyaluronic acid can hold up to six liters of water. 

Sounds impressive, right?

As you can imagine, these qualities are extremely beneficial when it comes to the skin. This is why hyaluronic acid can now be found in such a wide range of serums and moisturizers. It keeps the skin soft and hydrated, which also means that wrinkles and fine lines appear less visible. 

Not only that, but recent studies suggest that hyaluronic acid may also have antioxidant capabilities. 

What does this mean? 

Well, everything from pollution to sun exposure causes the formation of free radicals in your body. These free radicals are basically molecules that are missing an electron, and, in order to heal themselves, they attack nearby cells to steal those electrons. This process then turns those other cells into free radicals too, after which the cycle just continues on. 

Antioxidants contain several spare electrons, and they donate these to the free radicals in the body, therefore neutralizing them and rendering them harmless. 

Illustration of free radicals and electrons

If left to continue on with their attacks, free radicals would end up causing significant damage to the DNA in your cells, including those in your skin. This leads to accelerated skin aging, meaning a quicker onset of fine lines, wrinkles, sagging skin and more.

Salicylic Acid

If you have ever had to deal with acne, then you are likely already well familiar with salicylic acid. 

This acid comes from the bark of the willow tree, and is also referred to as a beta hydroxy acid. 

What does salicylic acid do? 

A number of things, such as:

  • Exfoliates the skin by breaking down the glue-like substance that holds dead skin cells onto the surface of the skin. This prevents pores from becoming clogged, therefore reducing breakouts 
  • Renewing effects to brighten up the skin 
  • Increases the skin cell turnover process, which helps the skin look and feel plumper and firmer 
  • Reduces the amount of sebum produced by the sebaceous glands. This again helps to prevent clogged pores and breakouts 

Wondering if salicylic acid can be used on all skin types?

No, it should only really be used by those who have oily skin. As mentioned earlier, salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid. This means that it penetrates deep inside the lining of your pores, exfoliating them internally as well as externally. 

This can be too drying for other skin types, since the skin’s natural oils are required in order to keep the skin moisturized and conditioned. 

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

While salicylic acid is a type of beta hydroxy acid, alpha hydroxy acids are another acid group. They are similar in some respects to beta hydroxy acids, but target the surface of the skin, rather than delving deep into the pores. 

Nevertheless, they still have a powerful exfoliating effect, and the l that they don’t dry out the skin as much as beta hydroxy acids make them suitable for a wider range of skin types. 

There are several different types of alpha hydroxy acids used in skin care, and each one has its own set of pros and cons…

1) Glycolic Acid

One of the most popular AHAs, glycolic acid, which comes from sugarcane, has an extremely small molecular size. This is fantastic for skin care, because it means that this acid is more capable than the other AHAs of penetrating deep into the skin.

However, there is a downside to this…

Due to the fact that it penetrates quite deeply, glycolic acid can irritate sensitive skin. Other than that, glycolic acid can be used by all skin types, although it tends to be most beneficial for those with oily skin. 

2) Lactic Acid

Many would say that lactic acid is the gentlest of the AHAs, making this one suitable for even sensitive skin. 

Since lactic acid is derived from milk, this AHA is superior when it comes to moisturizing the skin, and those with dry skin will likely notice quite a difference after exfoliating with lactic acid. 

Just like the other AHAs, lactic acid exfoliates the skin and helps to keep it smooth and bright by reducing the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines and hyperpigmentation. 

3) Malic Acid

Malic acid comes from apples, and while it may not be as widely known as some of the other AHAs out there, it is still most definitely worth knowing about. 

Why? 

Because not only does this exfoliating ingredient boost the skin cell turnover rate, but it also reduces the amount of melanin that your skin produces. This goes a long way in brightening up the skin tone and reducing hyperpigmentation. 

4) Citric Acid

Made from citrus fruits, citric acid is not only great for exfoliation, but also for neutralizing the skin’s pH level. 

The skin’s pH level should be slightly on the acidic side, but many skin care products out there lean towards the alkaline end of the scale. 

Illustration of pH scale

What happens if your skin’s pH level is out of balance? 

You could experience the following symptoms:

  • Oily skin and acne
  • Psoriasis and eczema 
  • Redness and dryness 

Citric acid helps to balance it all back out and prevent all those problems from occurring, while also keeping the skin smooth, bright and fresh. 

5) Mandelic Acid

Derived from almonds, mandelic acid is often used in combination with other AHAs, in order to give you the best of both of their benefits. 

Of course, this ingredient can also be used alone. 

In fact, mandelic acid is known for being able to improve skin texture, while also reducing the visibility of pores. 

As you can see, each of the AHAs mentioned above bring with them some unique benefits, which is why many exfoliating products often combine multiple AHAs in order to bring you the very best results. 

6) Tartaric Acid

One of the main acids found in wine, tartaric acid can be derived from a number of plants, including tamarinds and grapes. 

This AHA is less researched than the others mentioned above, but the studies that have been carried out so far show that this acid could really have potential. 

Its antioxidant properties are strong, making this an acid to consider if you are hoping for anti-aging results. 

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is another acid produced by the body itself, and is known for being a powerful antioxidant. In fact, it is often referred to as the universal antioxidant because, when it comes to skin care, this acid is soluble in both oil and water. 

What does alpha-lipoic acid actually do? 

Well, its antioxidant capabilities are 400 times that of vitamin C. As you can imagine, this makes it extremely effective at neutralizing free radicals and protecting cells from damage.

Alpha-lipoic acid also increases the skin cell turnover rate, encouraging the skin to naturally exfoliate, while also minimizing puffiness. 

You are probably thinking…

If my body is producing alpha-lipoic acid on its own, why do I need to use this ingredient? 

Well, just like with hyaluronic acid, production rates decline. This is not only due to the aging process, but also external factors, such as chronic stress or an unhealthy diet. 

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are extremely important when it comes to healthy skin. These are acids that the body doesn’t produce, but needs in order to properly function. 

When it comes to your skin, essential fatty acids play a number of important roles, including: 

  • Maintains the moisture and nutrient levels in skin cells 
  • Promotes the skin cell regeneration process 
  • Moisturizes the skin 
  • Promotes the healing process 
  • Anti-inflammatory properties that keep acne at bay 
  • Hydrates the skin and improves elasticity

There are two main types of essential fatty acids – omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. 

Which one do you need? 

You need both, and not only can you be applying these topically, but you should also make sure that you are consuming enough of these fatty acids through your diet too. Foods such as oily fish, flax seeds, avocados, spinach and nuts are great sources of essential fatty acids. 

Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids

When it comes to using these acids topically, there are certain ingredients that are naturally high in essential fatty acids, such as: 

  • Rosehip oil 
  • Evening primrose oil 
  • Hemp seed oil 
  • Grapeseed oil 

Kojic Acid

Are you dealing with hyperpigmentation? 

If so, then kojic acid is an ingredient that you need to know about. 

Kojic acid is derived from mushrooms, making it completely natural, and it has the ability to penetrate deep into your skin’s layers. 

What does it do once it is in your skin? 

It puts a stop to melanin production. Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin its color, and hyperpigmentation is often caused by an over-production of melanin. This results in the melanin clustering underneath certain parts of the skin, leading to those areas taking on a darker appearance. 

By halting this process, kojic acid is able to slowly fade away any hyperpigmentation, while also brightening up your overall appearance. 

One of the most common ingredients currently used to treat hyperpigmentation is hydroquinone, but this can often have some damaging side effects. Kojic acid is known for being a much safer alternative, although it may take slightly longer for results to become visible. 

Want to give kojic acid a try?

Make sure that you start off slowly, as some irritation at the beginning is common. Give your skin enough time to tolerate the ingredient, gradually building up the frequency at which you use the product. 

The incredible variety of acids used in skin care products can sometimes seem overwhelming. However, the acids mentioned above are the ones that you need to know about, since these are the ones that will make the most difference when it comes to the health and appearance of your skin.