Tag: lactic acid

Let’s Do Acid! 5 Stellar Acids to Improve Your Skin

No, no… this isn’t a post about dropping tabs or doing LSD for beauty. I’m not talking about that type of acid. This also isn’t a post about corrosive acid you might find in a battery or any other alarming chemical agents. This post is all about the types of acids that are actually safe and beneficial for your skin.

To the average person, putting acid on your face in the name of looking good sounds like a terrible idea. But devoted skin care enthusiasts know acids aren’t as bad or scary as they sound. Skin care acids typically provide a gentle, non-abrasive exfoliation that go a step above your average cleansers to enhance your glow. And though you may be picturing placing your face on fire, you’ll be relived to know that most acids (when administered properly) don’t cause a burning sensation. There are over 10 acids commonly used in the majority of skin care products but there are 3 acid families: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA), and Polyhydroxy Acid (PHA). Like everything else in skin care, you should only be using an acid that’s appropriate for your skin type.

Which Acid is Right For Me?

If you have a normal/dry skin type and are looking to fade fine lines and other signs of sun damage then AHAs are right for you. AHAs are water soluble and derived from foods such as sugar cane (glycolic acid), sour milk (lactic acid), apples (malic acid), citrus fruits (citric acid), and grapes (tartaric acid). The most effective AHA is glycolic acid as it has the smallest molecular structure enabling it to penetrate easier and deeper into the skin. AHAs work within the stratum corneum (outermost layer of the skin) to effect keratinization. Using products with AHAs are clinically proven to safely boost collagen.

Most AHA products you can buy over the counter (or online) typically contain no more than 10% AHA. Anything above that should be administered by an esthetician or dermatologist because with those higher amounts you can start to feel the burn—for lack of better words—and irritation.

If you have an oily/combination skin type then BHAs are what you’re looking for. BHAs are oil-soluble and only derived from asprin (do not use if you have an allergy to asprin). They can appear on labels as willow bark extract, tropic acid, trethocanic acid, salicylate, beta hydroxybutanoic acid, sodium salicylate, and betaine salicylate. Because BHAs are oil-soluble they are able to penetrate into sebaceous filaments, pores and lift the oil up and out of your skin.

Unlike AHAs, BHAs retain the same amount of efficacy at lower doses so when you read your skin care labels and see one of the aforementioned further down the ingredients list, don’t worry. In addition to decongesting your skin, BHAs are helpful in reducing fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin texture.

If you have sensitive/dehydrated skin type then PHAs are the skin care acids that will work best for you. These are commonly listed as gluconolactone, lactobionic, and maltobionic. While you could probably use AHAs if you had sensitive skin, you might still experience some mild irritation. PHAs (widely considered the next generation of AHAs) have a larger molecular structure, designed to penetrate the skin more slowly, and also acts as a natural humectant. These types of acids don’t have any of the sensitizing side effects that come with traditional AHAs and can be used if you have rosacea or dermatitis.

You will typically find PHAs available in large amounts (30% being the most common). While it wouldn’t be safe to try to use an AHA at such high a concentration, it’s okay to use for PHAs. Again, PHAs have a larger molecular structure and are more gentle.

Top 5 Skin Care Acids (in no particular order)

  1. Glycolic Acid—this is the OG of skin care acids. Its tiny molecular structure allows for the acid to really get in your skin and make a difference by boosting collagen and stimulating cell turnover. While you’ll immediately have a refreshing glow, it is important to use sunscreen liberally immediately following the use of products containing this acid. Glycolic acid is known for causing sun sensitivity.
  2. Mandelic Acid—derived from bitter almonds, this skin care acid is great for oily/acneic skin and for treating hyperpigmentation. This is a great alternative to those with an asprin allergy looking to combat breakouts and it’s also high in antibacterial properties.
  3. Salicylic Acid—if you don’t have an allergy to asprin, this is hand down the best acid for getting control over breakouts and even cystic acne. You can find salicylic and mandelic combined to provide a more powerful exfoliation.
  4. Maltobionic Acid—perfect for getting a smooth texture, firmness, and hydrating the skin.
  5. Tartaric Acid—extremely gentle and packed with antioxidants. You’ll want to use this if you are looking to prevent sun damage.

With any acid, you want to pay close attention to the ingredients/labels and consult your physician to ensure you don’t have any allergies. Avoid using acids if you’re currently on any form of retinol. You should stop retinol use for at least 6 weeks before trying acids.

Getting Serious About Serum

Life was so much easier when we were all using Noxzema (gasp!) and Oxy (yikes!) however, these days, simple cleansing just won’t cut it. As we begin our graceful ascent into our later years—the graceful glow as I like to call it—we should all add a serum into our daily routine. Serums are highly concentrated formulas containing active ingredients designed to penetrate the deepest layers of the skin. They can target specific problem areas within your skin because the molecular structure of a serum is much smaller than what can be found in your everyday skin care products. The majority of serums are water-based which can work well for nearly every skin type, but there are a few that are oil-based.

If you want to get to the root of your skin care concerns, you often have to look beneath the skin. The blemish or signs of aging we see on our faces are just the visible signs of skin damage that could have been weeks or months in the works. This is why serums are essential to a good skin care regimen. The not-so-awesome news: highly concentrated active ingredients are a bit more costly than other skin care products. So be prepared to spend quite a lot of money on what appears to be not so much. Don’t worry, the saying big things come in small packages holds true for serums—a little goes a long way.  And while, yes, you are adding one more product into your daily or nightly (or both?) routine you’ll find that it’s totally worth it.

You want to place serums after cleansing and before moisturizing. If you’re thinking you can skip a step by just adding your serum into your moisturizer, sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Mixing a serum with any other products cuts the efficacy of the serum. Pressing a serum into your skin will garner the best results. Let’s get in to what kind of serum you should use and at what age you should start using it.


It’s likely that you won’t need to start exploring different serums until your reach your late twenties. This is a good time to incorporate a serum containing Vitamin C, resveratrol, and ferulic acid. Vitamin C helps increase collagen production and has antioxidant properties. Reservatrol is a polyphenol antioxidant found naturally in red grapes, nuts, and berries. It is particularly useful in protecting against UVB damage and increasing the effectiveness of your sunscreen throughout the day. Ferulic Acid is a hydroxycinnamic acids that helps fight free radicals.


Now is the time you want to get one step ahead of your wrinkles. You’ll want to use serums that target anti-aging containing ingredients such as Vitamin A, malic acid, and Coenzyme Q-10. Vitamin A is a good source of retinol which helps to reduce wrinkles by boosting collagen and elastin. Malic Acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) found naturally in apples that helps restore a youthful glow promoting collagen formation and helping to even the skin tone. Coenzyme Q-10 (or CQ-10) also promotes collagen production and is an antioxidant.


This is around the time our skin begins to get drier. Look for serums fortified with hyaluronic acid, vitamin Eniacinamide, and ceramides. Hyaluronic acid is the great hydrator that is found in most skin care products. As a serum it really helps to retain moisture in the skin as it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals. You can actually reverse the visible signs of aging with niacinamide. Derived from niacin (also known as vitamin B3), this antioxidant prevents Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) and restores the skin’s elasticity. Ceramides help form the skin’s protective barrier, lock in moisture, and protect against sun damage.


If you’re experiencing some hyperpigmentation look for serums containing kojic acid, bearberry, lactic acid, or licorice root. For breakouts you’ll want a serum that contains salicylic acid, zinc, and retinol. If your skin is super sensitive look for ingredients like aloe, chamomile, and lavender.

When you visit your esthetician, it’s likely that they will use a few different serums to treat different problems. Now that you know about serums, book an appointment to learn more about which serum will work best for your specific skin concerns and skin type!

Image Credit: Instagram user @Itsbankhead via Blackhaiirstyles on Tumblr