Beauty Lessons: Topical Acids

topical acids

Acid is a scary word, especially when you’re thinking of applying it to your face, but acids can be some of the most hard working ingredients in your skincare regimen, as long as you know how to use them. Between AHAs, BHAs, and everything in between, it’s easy to be confused by the label. Here are a few of the most common types of acid you’ll see in your skincare and what they’re good for.

topical acids

Salicylic acid is one of the most common treatments for skin ailments and acne, expecially in drugstore brands. It’s easy to remember because it’s the only Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) amongst droves of Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs). The difference is that BHAs are lipid soluble. Which means that unlike many other topical acids, it can penetrate the pore because it works through the sebum, or oil, that’s on your skin. This means that it is perfect for sufferers of mild acne and blackheads whereas less effective for treating sun damage and wrinkles. Beware that it can cause sun-sensitivity and redness in those with sensitive skin. Best used in a concentration of 1% – 2%. Try Murad's Exfoliating Acne Treatment Gel $54. 

Glycolic acid is one of the most prevalent AHAs on the market. Derived from sugar cane, this organic compound is mostly used as a chemical exfoliant and is renowned for its effectiveness. It works to destroy the connectors between the layers of dead skin on the surface. Most commonly used in a concentration of 10% in a moisturizer or exfoliating gel. Try REN's Resurfacing AHA Concentrate $45, which not only contains glycolic acid but also Lactic and Citric acids which aid exfoliation. 

For years, Hyaluronic acid has been heralded as the fountain of youth and end to all anti-aging woes. It is the primary ingredient in many facial fillers, such as Restylane, as well as in many topical anti-aging serums and eye creams. Applied topically, it’s said to increase plumpness in the skin and make the skin look and feel very smooth. It’s renowned for its ability to show results in just a few weeks whereas many topical treatments fail to show any visible results. It also attracts 1000 times its weight in water so is perfect for people with dry or scaly skin. Try Peter Thomas Roth's VIZ-1000; 70% Hyaluronic Acid Complex $65. 

Many of these products work well in conjunction with each other and there are many more not named here. If you have sensitive skin or are nervous about applying a new product to your skin, consult with your dermatologist to see if chemical exfoliants are right for you.