There’s no denying that acids are one of the most versatile and effective ingredients in your skin-care arsenal. They also are the most misunderstood — many people still don’t know all of the wonderful things these magical complexes are capable of. Well, let us enlighten you: They quite literally do all of the things.
Still plagued by blemishes and breakouts? There’s an acid for that. Fine lines and dullness got you down? There’s an acid for that. Chemical exfoliation is an easy addition to your regimen, and one that can boost your glow, big-time. The key lies in choosing the acid that is best for your skin type and concerns.
If you’re not sure where to start, fear not: We went to the experts for their tips and recommendations on finding the best acid for you, as well the proper way to add them into your existing line-up. If you’re new to acids — or just want more info — here’s what you need to know to use them right.
DON’T Be Afraid
Regardless of skin type, color, and issues, exfoliation is necessary for everyone. Sure, our skin can and will self-exfoliate, but like so much else, its ability to do so slows down as we age. “Getting rid of this buildup evens out skin tone, improves texture, reduces clogged pores and breakouts, as well as assists with reducing fine lines and other signs of aging skin. It also allows your other products work even better, by increasing their ability to penetrate the skin,” explains medical aesthetician Jordana Mattioli. Got sensitive skin? Not to worry —nowadays gentle formulas exist for even the most delicate skin.
DO Your Research
There are a lot of acids out there, but not every acid is right for all complexions. In order to find your perfect match, you need to know what each one is and what it does best. Here’s your cheat sheet:
- Glycolic Acid, an AHA, is one of the most common, well-researched, and widely available acids. It has a super-small molecule size, meaning it sinks in quickly and provides deep exfoliation. Depending on the percentage of acids, that might be too harsh for some easily irritated types, so be sure to do a test patch prior to using. If you’re skin is not easily agitated, this acid is a great choice for addressing aging concerns and getting a glow. One to try: Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser. The three-in-one cleanser serves as a makeup melter, cleanser, and clarifying mask. The secret to its glow-bestowing powers lies in a mix of two dead-skin dissolving AHA’s — glycolic and lactic. The great thing about acids is that, in some cases, you can double up on them for a more complete skin-clearing experience. You just need to be smart about how you combine them. More on that later…
- Salicylic Acid, a BHA, are a great choice for oily, acne-prone skin thanks to its ability to deeply penetrate — and clean out — pores. One to try: Leegeehaam Grow Tea Tree 70 BHA Toner. It’s made with a whopping 70% Tea Tree extract, plus BHA, Willow Bark, and Witch Hazel to naturally purge clogged pores, as well as Aloe and Cucumber to keep skin soothed and hydrated.
- If brightening or hyperpigmentation issues got you down, you might want to try L-Ascorbic Acid, aka Vitamin C. This potent antioxidant in its pure form can have a significant impact on brown spots and post-acne redness. Look for stronger concentrations (between 10-20%) to get the best brightening and free-radical-fighting power. One to try: Liz K First C Serum Pure Vitamin C. It uses 13% pure L-Ascorbic Acid to provide unparalleled brightening and a visibly more even tone.
- More sensitive skin types can benefit from PHAs (Polyhydroxy Acids) like Gluconolactone and Lactobionic Acids. Unlike AHA, it has a larger molecule size, meaning it doesn’t absorb quite so deep and provides a more gradual exfoliation, making it the perfect pick for sensitive, irritated skin. One to try: Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Sleeping Mask. Our newest addition is equal parts skin soother, hydrator, and exfoliator. It cocoons skin in nourishing Avocado and restorative Manuka Honey, all while oh-so-gently dissolving dead skin. Its creamy, whipped texture makes it the perfect pick for dry skin that’s tired and stressed out — it provides a much-needed invigorating boost for a smooth, clear, hydrated complexion.
DON’T Overdo It
The introduction of any active ingredient into your skin-care routine should be approached carefully. “The biggest mistake I see with exfoliants is the over-usage of them,” says Dr. Dendy Engelman. “I have patients who start using exfoliating pads and the results after the first use is so amazing that they use it every day. By day four, they come to me with dry, irritated skin and they blame the product.” Our skin does adjust, and even build up a tolerance to chemical exfoliants like glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids, but there’s no need to use them everyday, and doing so won’t be well tolerated by most people’s skin. She recommends starting with one every other day, only once a day.
DO Keep Moisturizer in the Mix
You already know that acids can be sensitizing, so it’s especially important that you keep the rest of your routine focused on hydration and repair. “Hydroxy acids can cause minor skin irritation as you first start to use them, so be sure to repair the outer skin layer by using your moisturizer regularly,” Dr. Joshua Zeichner says. We recommend one that features calming Centella Asiatica (aka Cica), like ID.AZ Dermastic Moisturizing Cream — it’s specially formulated by Korea’s top dermatology clinic to treat skin after professional laser treatments, which can be very harsh and compromise your skin’s natural moisture barrier.
DON’T Mix Actives
While it can be tempting to slap every serum we own on our faces in the name of glowing skin, it’s important to pay attention to the way ingredients interact, lest you end up using products that actually counteract one another or cause irritation. Avoid layering acids if you’re worried about sensitivity — instead, try using one in the morning (like Vitamin C) and another in the evening (like AHA). You’ll still get the individual benefits of each, but you don’t need to worry about any bad reactions. Safety first!
A big no-no for all skin types is combining acids with retinol or prescription-strength treatments like Accutane — those ingredients are meant to be very strong and using any type of acid (or manual exfoliator, for that matter) while using them is going to lead to a lot of redness and burning. Mattioli suggests her clients use mild acid exfoliants, like the Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, on the nights they don’t use their retinol. “I recommend getting your skin used to either a retinoid or the acid before using both,” she says—also, “don’t apply acids over irritated skin, or active herpes/cold sores near or on the mouth.” As for Accutane, talk to your dermatologist first before using any type of exfoliating product as it’s a very serious drug that severely dries out skin.
DO Make Sure to Use SPF
Even though acids are often recommended for nighttime use, they still increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. “Hydroxy acids can thin the outer layer of the skin, increasing your risk of sunburn.” Dr. Zeichner explains. So basically, if the golden rule of skin care is to use SPF everyday no matter what, adding acids to the mix makes it even more important. We like Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Gel, which has that skin-soothing Cica, plus hydrating Chia Seed and SPF 50+
Do you use acids in your skin-care routine? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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