You hear the word “acid” and start getting flashbacks of high school chemistry class. I
remember thinking, “Why do I need to learn about acids? I’ll never need this information in real
life.” I was wrong. Acids are actually some of the best ingredients in skin care. They can be the
preferred tools to fight acne, wrinkles, age spots, scarring and hyperpigmentation because they
induce cell turnover. Older cells are forced to shed faster and new cells grow quickly to improve
There are two main group of acids: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids
(BHAs). AHAs are water-soluble and work on the surface of the skin. According to experts,
AHAs exfoliate the outer layer of the skin which can brighten, even out skin tone and texture
and even stimulate a little collagen production. BHAs, oil-soluble, penetrate deeply into clogged
pores and are helpful in treating and preventing acne. Experts say BHAs actually bind to sebum
(oil) so when dead skin cells are swept away by a BHA, the pore-clogging oil goes with them.
AHA: Hyaluronic Acid + Hydration ≠ Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Your cells naturally produce hyaluronic acid to retain moisture but as age and the environment
take a toll on the skin, the levels drop. This can cause fine lines and wrinkles to set in. Applying
hyaluronic acid topically can help hydrate the skin and maintain the hydration which will smooth
out your skin. One gram of the acid has the ability to hold more than a gallon and a half of
water. This ingredient is good for every skin type and should be used daily, especially if you
have dry skin.
AHA: Glycolic Acid + Exfoliation = Cell turnover
Glycolic acid, derived from sugar cane, is the most common acid found in skin care. It is the
smallest molecule of all the acids so it penetrates deeper into the skin making it the most
effective. Its power lies in exfoliation. As we get older, cell turnover slows down. This acid helps
remove the very top layer of the skin. It specifically treats wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and acne
prone skin. All skin types can use this but be aware that it is a strong acid and overuse may
cause irritation. You shouldn’t use anything higher than 10% at home. The higher the
percentage, the deeper the penetration. I know that sounds good, but you could do real damage
to your skin. Anything higher than 10% should be administered by a dermatologist.
BHA: Salicylic Acid + Exfoliate and Clean Pores ≠ Acne
Salicylic acid, derived from willow bark, is oil-soluble and penetrates deep into the pores of the
skin. This makes it ideal for removing dead skin and excess oil, preventing blackheads and
whiteheads, and reducing inflammation. Experts say the acid increases moisture in the skin and
dissolves the substances that cause the skin cells to stick together. This makes it easier to shed
the cells. Overusing this product can cause dry skin and irritation. Make sure to consult with
your dermatologist before using salicylic acid.
There are plenty of other acids out there that do different things to help your skin but these are
my top three. Also, if you’re trying to address a specific skin concern, make sure to check the
labels before purchasing products. Professional products will have a higher concentration of
acid than commercial ones. The next time you get a facial, ask your esthetician about the best
combination of acids for your skin.