Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Shreya Singh (Pharmacist) on 24th Oct 2020
The Beginner's Guide Into The World of Face Acids
Acids are your skin’s BFF. Surprised?
The idea of using acid as a skincare ingredient can be very intimidating to people. Because when they hear the word ‘Acid,’ the first thing they picturise in their mind is harsh chemicals that are too strong for their skin causing chemical burns, irritation, redness, and whatnot.
It results in scaring away a lot of people from even giving it a shot.
But the truth is, when used in the right concentration and formulation, Acids can be a massive boon for your skin. It can help you to achieve that picture-perfect skin that everyone dreams for!
Acids have a pH close to our skin’s pH, helping to balance the skin’s pH and protect our delicate skin acid mantle.
In this article, we will break down some of the primary and most common acid ingredients that we find in skincare, how they work on your skin and how to choose the right acid for your skin type & concern.
You’ll be overwhelmed to know about different acids available out there, having different targeted actions that can help a myriad of skin conditions.
Most common Face Acids and their uses:
Acids have been around for centuries, but it’s only recently that they’ve found their tremendous use in skincare because of the numerous amounts of research done. Many people have started trusting and using them to get that flawless, healthier skin.
Some of the most common face acids available in the market are:
Glycolic acid is a type of Alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), which is derived from sugarcane. It is the most popular and well researched among all other AHAs. It is also the most effective because it has the smallest molecular weight of all the acids out there, which helps it penetrate deeper into the skin even at very low concentrations.
Benefits of Glycolic acid for your skin:
- It functions mostly as a potent exfoliant for your skin. It can work on the top skin layer and go a little bit deeper into your skin.
- It unglues and loosens up the dead skin cells sticking to the surface of your skin and helps in shedding them off, revealing a smooth, brighter, baby-soft skin.
- It stimulates fibroblasts in the skin, which boosts up collagen production, which helps reduce fine lines, keeping your skin youthful and vibrant.
- Its peeling action helps re-texturize the skin’s surface, fading dark spots and acne scars, making your skin flawless and even-toned.
It is commonly added in superficial peeling solutions to boost cell turnover and reveal younger baby-soft skin underneath. It is essential to find the right concentration as too little will not be effective, and too much is not safe to apply at home without medical supervision.
10% -30% Glycolic acid is optimum to be used as a weekend peeling solution.
Also, many peeling solutions are too irritating to bear by sensitive skin or dry skin. Choosing an excellent stable formulation with soothing actives can help you reap maximum benefits safely.
Lactic acid is also a type of Alpha-hydroxy acid. It is the best-researched AHA after glycolic acid. It is prominent for being gentler and is great for all skin types, especially sensitive, aging, or acne-prone skin.
Benefits of Lactic Acid for your skin:
- It works similarly as the glycolic acid by swapping off the dead skin cells from the topmost layer of your skin.
- However, it doesn’t penetrate as deep as glycolic acid due to its larger molecular size. It helps in reducing discoloration, so you get a blemish-free, smooth and even-toned skin.
- Interestingly, where all the acids are known for drying your skin out, it boosts the hydration levels by increasing water retention in your skin. Therefore, it is conducive for making your skin more resilient and moisturized.
Lactic acid is mildest in the family of AHA and thus can be your first face acid.
In a clinical study, 10-12% Lactic acid was found useful for removing dead cells while anything less than 5% has no significant effect on skin texture or tone.
Salicylic acid is a type of Beta-hydroxy acid. It is an age-old remedy that has been practiced by a lot of skincare enthusiasts. Scientifically proven to be a potent exfoliator.
Benefits of Salicylic Acid for your skin:
- It is widely popular for its ability to exfoliate and intensely cleanse out the skin from within deeply.
- It works a layer deeper than AHA by truly penetrating the pore-lining and unclogging it by scooping out all of the dirt, debris, and gunk that has been built up into your pores.
- It helps in getting rid of blackheads and whiteheads that are deeply rooted within your skin. Research shows that it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that reduce and prevent mild acne, resulting in a more refined complexion.
- It also causes exfoliation at the surface level by working as a peeling agent, which helps in fading dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and sun damage. It keeps your oil production in check, which helps in treating acne from the root cause.
It is a very concentrated acid and must be used with caution and should not be used on a wounded or peeling skin.
It can dry on your skin and cause slight irritation; therefore, people with sensitive skin should not avoid using it. Pregnant or lactating women and those using blood thinners are prohibited from using it to avoid different medical conditions.
Safe and effective formulations contain 1-2% of Salicylic acid. Anything less than 1% is not clinically tested to be effective.
Kojic acid is widely used in Asian skincare products to improve skin clarity by reducing pigmentation. It works by inhibiting the L-Tyrosinase enzyme required for the production of melanin. Excess melanin pigment is responsible for making your skin darker.
Benefits of Kojic Acid on your skin:
- It is the secret skin lightener that effectively fades away dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and stubborn post-breakout marks leaving a clear, brighter, and radiant skin.
- It is also known to have antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties.
- It can also fade away the appearance of freckles on your skin, giving you that camera-worthy skin! However, it is not meant for use as a fairness treatment.
Although it is considered safe to use in concentrations of 1-2%, people with sensitive skin should be cautious while using it because it may cause some skin irritation or discomfort.
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C):
L-Ascorbic acid is the most popular and biologically active form of Vitamin C. It is widely used in skincare for its brightening and anti-aging effects.
Benefits of L-Ascorbic acid for your skin:
- It works as a powerful antioxidant that reduces and prevents photodamage caused to the skin by acting as a free radical scavenger.
- It suppresses melanin production, which helps treat hyperpigmentation and discoloration, making your skin brighter and more luminous.
- It helps boost collagen and elastin synthesis, which combats the early signs of aging, and protects the skin from adverse effects of environmental aggressors that may result in premature aging.
Since it is highly acidic, people with hypersensitive skin or Rosacea should consider using it as the last option.
Minimalist Expert's Advice
It quickly oxidizes in the presence of light and air, so finding a stable formulation is difficult. Consider other derivatives of Vitamin C, such as SAP, which is less potent but delivers much more benefits as it is stable and does not go bad!
Which acid should you use for your skin?
Choosing acid from the plethora of options available can be too confusing. One should consider their skin type and the skin concern they want a treatment for before deciding the product and choose accordingly.
Here is a brief table to refer while choosing the best Acid suitable for your skin:
|FACE ACID||WHAT IT DOES||SKIN TYPE|
|Glycolic Acid (AHA)||Exfoliates skin
Reduces fine lines, dark spots
Boosts collagen production
|All skin types
Especially those with wrinkles and fine lines
|Lactic Acid (AHa)||Mildly Exfoliates skin
Boosts up hydration levels in the skin
|All skin types
Particularly those with sensitive skin
|Salicylic Acid (BHA)||Deeply Exfoliates skin
Treats blackheads and whiteheads
|Oily or acne-prone skin
Except for pregnant or lactating women and those with sensitive skin
|Kojic Acid||Brightens and lightens the skin
Fades away dark spots, pigmentation and post-breakout marks
|All skin types
Especially those with hyperpigmentation, Melasma
|L-Ascorbic Acid||Vit C
Brightens skin tone
|All skin types
But used with precaution for sensitive skin
Hydrates and plumps up the skin by drawing in moisture from the surrounding
Has Antioxidant properties
|All skin typesKojic Acid
Great for dry and moisture-deprived skin
And those with acne-prone skin looking for an oil-free option
Speeds up cell renewal
Balances pH of the skin
|Pigmented skin with dark spots
Might upset sensitive skin
Used as the Anti-Acne treatment of choice
Skin lightening agent
|Exclusively safe for
all skin types
Treats sun damage
Less irritating to the skin than other AHAs
|All skin types|
What to consider before starting with Face Acids:
If you’re just starting with these acids, it is best to go for the products that contain a lower concentration, especially those with sensitive skin, and use it less frequently, not more than once a week.
Since these acids are pretty strong, they may make your skin likely more susceptible to sun damage, therefore applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 or more in the daytime is non-negotiable.
A patch test is highly recommended before use.
How to choose the right formulation?
Given the rapid rise in the popularity of these face acids, there’s no wonder that the products with these face acids have exploded.
Many beauty brands have come up with lots of formulations, which might be very confusing for consumers to choose between them.
Therefore, one should look out for all the facts and details before purchasing. These include the concentration percentage of the active component, the stability of active form, its molecular size, and the packaging of the product.
If you have decided which acid you want to give a try then read its guide before you buy one to ensure you chose the best product:
- AHA, Glycolic Acid Guide
- If you want to start with a milder acid, Lactic Acid Guide
- BHA, Salicylic Acid Guide
- If you want to reap benefits of both AHA and BHA, AHA / BHA Guide
- Kojic Acid Guide
- Vitamin C Guide
Minimalist Unique Formulations:
All Minimalist acid formulations are made with pure Aloe juice instead of 70 % water added by other brands to calm any irritation associated with active ingredients.
The Bottom Line
All face acids are not only good for your skin but also necessary to maintain healthy skin.
After your mid 20’s when your skin’s natural ability to remove dead cells and flush out impurities decreases, these acids play a critical role. With prolonged exposure to dirt, pollution, and alkaline solutions, your skin’s pH is upside down, and to restore them; you need face acids.
Whichever face acid you choose to apply, make sure you follow it for at least 6-12 weeks as unlike harsh chemicals, they are milder and take time to show results.
Purging is frequent with face acids, so do not stop, no matter how much you are tempted to, using them. It usually subsides in 2-3 weeks of regular use.