Using acid can be confusing, eye opening, mind altering, and wonderful - we're talking about acids in skincare, obviously. While acids are often touted as key features of skincare products, they can be really perplexing. If you're someone with dry or sensitive skin, why would you want to put anything that's an acid on it? And what's the deal with AHAs and BHAs and all the As? Read on for our guide to acids in skincare.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Alpha Hydroxy Acids AKA AHAs, are a group of acids that include glycolic, lactic, citric, tartaric, and mandelic. They are highly effective chemical skin exfoliators- they work by essentially removing the “glue” that holds dead skin cells to our skins surface. Some work better than others for this purpose- glycolic and lactic acid tend to be the best for gentle skin exfoliation, because the concentrations needed are enough to remove dead skin gently without irritating skin. The concentration of citric acid needed to exfoliate would be way too painful, so it is generally used at lower concentrations for natural preservation and pH control of skincare products.
Glycolic acid is a true star in the skincare world because it is so gentle yet effective. Not only does it leave skin looking more radiant, but also boosts collagen production, making it ideal for pretty much any skin type.
Who should use them: Anyone looking for younger looking, healthy, glowing skin. Try glycolic acid in Alder New York’s Everyday Face Cleanser.
Beta Hydroxy Acid/ Salicylic Acid
Beta Hydroxy Acid AKA BHA comes in one form- salicylic acid. Salicylic acid works similarly to AHAs in that it gently exfoliates skin. But unlike glycolic acid, it’s oil soluble so it can penetrate beneath skin’s surface to dissolve the buildup that creates bumps, whiteheads, and blackheads on the skin surface. Salicylic acid is also special in that it’s very soothing and healing to skin, so it can be great for both acne prone and rosacea prone skin types. Acne prone skin types can often benefit from a combination of AHAs and salicylic acid, as AHAs treat the top layer of skin, while salicylic acid treats the lower layers.
Who should use them: Anyone dealing with acne, rosacea, skin blemishes, or looking for overall skin evenness.
Hyaluronic acid is another superstar ingredient because it is a super hydrating natural acid in our skin that we produce less of as we age. When applied topically, it draws moisture to skin and keeps it there, leading to plumper, dewier, wrinkle reduced skin that's smooth and healthy.
Who should use them: Literally everyone. Hyaluronic acid is so special because it adds moisture without oil- so acne prone skin types will love it as it doesn’t clog pores and soothes blemished skin. Dry skin types will also love it for its deeply hydrating effects. Anyone worried about fine lines and wrinkles should definitely be using it. Try it in Alder New York’s Everyday Face Serum, Everyday Face Moisturizer, and Hydrating Face Mask.
Ascorbic acid is pure vitamin C. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that increases skin's radiance, reduces hyper pigmentation, increases collagen production, and fights free radicals, making it an anti aging powerhouse. Ascorbic Acid is not shelf stable, so skincare formulas usually use stable derivatives such as glyceryl ascorbate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate.
Who should use them: Anyone worried about skin aging, and damage from pollution, sun, and free radicals. You can try vitamin C in Alder New York's Everyday Face Moisturizer and Brightening Face Mask.
Amino acids include proline, leucine, arginine, histidine, and serine. Amino Acids are the building blocks of proteins, and naturally occur in our skin- since our skin is mostly protein, we need amino acids. While our skin naturally produces them, if you're dealing with rough, patchy skin, lines, or inflammation, you could likely use an amino acid boost. Every amino acid is unique, and they all do amazing things- many of them are skin humectants, antioxidants, and calming agents.
Who should use them: Everybody! Since they naturally occur in our skin, they're great for all skin types, and leave skin feeling smoother and more hydrated.
Retinoic Acid is what our body produces once it metabolizes vitamin A. Prescription products use retinoic acid, while over the counter cosmetics use retinoids which, when applied to skin, will convert to retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is one of the most powerful anti aging acids out there- it alters gene expression to "turn off" genes that lead to aging, and "turn on" the genes that encourage collagen production and even pigmentation.
However, there is a big problem with retinoids- studies indicate that sun exposure on skin with retinol leads to the development of skin tumors and lesions. The FDA, Norwegian, and German health agencies have all raised concern about vitamin A application, as in addition to cancer concerns, there is also evidence that it can cause birth defects in fetuses.
Who should use them: We say no one. If you think you must use retinoids for a skincare concern, make sure to use them before bed to avoid sun exposure. And if you're pregnant or trying, absolutely do not use them.
Fatty acids include oleic, palmitic, stearic, linoleic, and linolenic acids. Fatty acids are part of our skin's protective barrier, and are important for smooth, healthy skin that can keep moisture in and bacteria and harmful pollutants out. There are 2 types: essential and non essential. Non essential are the type we manufacture internally, while essential fatty acids are the kind we need to ingest or apply to get- think omega-3s and omega-6s.
Applying fatty acids topically generally leaves skin softer and calmer. In skincare, these acids serve different purposes- for instance stearic acid, a non essential fatty acid naturally found in shea butter, is often used to thicken lotions and soaps. Some are excellent for acne prone skin- linoleic acid is an incredible essential acid known for fighting acne, evening skin texture, and reducing hyper pigmentation. It has a very short shelf life by itself and is very expensive so it's often used only in specialty skincare products if used solo. Most of the time, your best source of linoleic acid is in the oils naturally rich in it- for instance sunflower oil.
Who should use them: Dry, sensitive, normal, and combination skin types will see the most benefit from stearic acid, while linoleic is great for anyone who wants to see more skin evening and radiance. You can try linoleic acid in the form of Sunflower oil in Alder New York's Everyday Face Moisturizer.