The most beneficial ingredients available in skincare
The word “acid” conjures up all sorts of images in people’s minds and thoughts of scary chemical burns. I hear it all the time “ I can't use acid on my skin, my skin is far too sensitive for that” But when used in the right concentrations, acids are actually some of the most beneficial ingredients available in skincare.
They can be a miracle used to combat acne, soften wrinkles, reduce age spots, scarring, and uneven skin tone. But with so many acids on the market, it can seem overwhelming to know which to use — and for what.
Carry on reading for a guide to help you understand your top 5 acids.
Salicylic acid is a BHA (Beta Hydroxy acid) It is well-known for its ability to exfoliate the skin and due to its small molecular makeup and oil absorbent properties it penetrates to the bottom of the pores and helps reduce acne. You will find it in serums and cleansers at concentrations between 0.5 and 2 percent, as well as in spot treatments for breakouts.
Salicylic acid is also used in higher concentrations as a peeling agent for treating acne, acne scars, sun damage, and age spots. As it is it’s derived from aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), it also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Glycolic acid is the most popular alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) used in skincare. It comes from sugar cane and is the smallest AHA, so it’s the most effective at getting into the skin. Glycolic acid is a fantastic anti-ageing agent that seems to do it all.
It’s very effective at exfoliating skin spots, increasing skin thickness, and evening out skin tone and texture. So it’s no surprise that you’ll find it in many skincare products. It’s commonly found at concentrations below 10 percent.
Much like salicylic acid, glycolic acid is also used in peels for treating acne and pigmentation. However use of glycolic acid increases sun sensitivity even when it’s not on the skin, so you need to use sunscreen as well to prevent extra sun damage.
Lactic acid is another AHA. which is derived from milk.
Lactic acid is specifically used to treat hyperpigmentation and age spots and other factors that contribute to a dull and uneven complexion. Other benefits of AHAs like lactic acid include improved skin tone and reduced pore appearance.
However, unlike AHAs such as glycolic acid, lactic acid is a bit milder. This makes a lactic acid peel a better choice for sensitive skin. Lactic is considered one of the mildest acids and would be a great option if sensitivity has occurred when using others or on more sensitive skin.
Lactic acid is a humectant so helps to nourish the skin as well as exfoliate making the downtime with this acid minimal.
Mandelic acid is another alpha-hydroxy acid, one that’s derived from bitter almonds. Like glycolic acid, it’s an exfoliating agent that’s useful for treating acne, repairing sun damage and evening out pigmentation.
However, due to its larger molecular structure, it doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid, so it’s less irritating to the skin. For this reason, it’s commonly recommended in peels instead of glycolic acid particularly in darker skin as it is more prone to rebound pigmentation. (PIH - post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) Rebound pigmentation occurs when resistance is built up to a particular substance due to excessive use. This causes the substance to not only be ineffective but often causes it to have the opposite of the intended effect.
Azelaic acid has been one of the mainstay treatments for fighting moderate acne for the last three decades and is found in many prescription-only creams. It keeps popes clear, kills bacteria and reduces inflammation. It is generally found at 15 to 20 percent concentrations in creams that are designed to be applied all over the face, morning and night. Azelaic acid generally has very few side effects, but in some people with very sensitive skin it can cause stinging, peeling, and redness.
As well as treating acne, azelaic acid is also a skin lightening agent that’s useful for fading post-acne marks, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It’s frequently combined with retinoids as a milder alternative to hydroquinone (which is banned in the UK)