What are skincare acids? An expert guide to the right one for your skin

Skincare acids have become a common theme in the beauty pages. Indeed, they’ve become so popular that we’re swamped with choice – search for acid on Cult Beauty and you’ll get 200 products; Feel Unique gives more than 4,000! But like many buzzwords in beauty, how much do you really know about them? And which is right for you?

What are skincare acids?

I know very little about skincare acids beyond Samantha’s chemical peel in Sex and the City:

Sex and the City Season 5 – -Samantha's chemical peel

Let’s face it, the word “acid” is a bit scary, which is why you may see products touting they contain “active” ingredients instead. This means that they change the skin in a way that can be measured, either scientifically or visually, rather than just covering it up. They can tackle a range of skincare problems, from acne to fine lines, dryness to sunspots.

Since Samantha’s day (I’m always on first name terms with her), the new generation of facial acids use hardworking, high-tech formulas containing acids at a lower concentration, so even those with sensitive skins can use them.

How do they work?

Using skincare acids encourages cell turnover. That means they help you shed old, clogged cells that make your skin look dull or pasty and encourage new cells to grow underneath. This will improve the texture of your skin.

You’ll hear talk of AHAs and BHAs: alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids. AHAs are often used as exfoliants and can help treat pigmentation and sunspots and help improve texture and tone and the look of fine lines.

BHAs, meanwhile, can get deep into clogged pores, making them great for fighting the likes of acne.

Different acids target different skincare issues, so use the one that’s right for you.

And which one is that?

The million-dollar question.

For this, I’ll hand you over to the expert – Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, from Adonia Medical Clinic in London. She is an aesthetic medicine doctor who helps train plastic surgeons, dermatologist, doctors and dentists on safe and effective procedures, so we’re in good hands!

Keen to help women through the complex maze of names, she’s provided me with this handy guide for which acids to use for which skin type.

For oily and acne-prone skin

Salicylic Acid: This is made from the same family as aspirin. It exfoliates and reduces excess oil in the skin, helping to reduce acne breakouts. Look for products with 2 per cent strength and add to your evening skin regime when cleansing.

For dry skin and rosacea

Lactic Acid: Coming from cow’s milk, lactic acid is unusual in that it exfoliates, but also hydrates the skin by pulling water into the skin. (Find out more about menopause and rosacea here.)

For all skin types

Glycolic Acid: This comes from sugar cane and is a really small molecule that penetrates into the skin, exfoliating and brightening the skin. It is strong, so only use once a week as an exfoliator on the face with a product at 10 per cent strength. It should also not be used long term, so take a break after a couple of months.

Great for darker skin

Mandelic Acid: While glycolic acid is great for skin types I-III but Mandelic acid is better for darker skin, yet is often overlooked. Made from almonds, the molecules are larger which makes it good for brightening darker skin types without causing pigmentation.

Good for dehydration

Hyaluronic Acid: This is not an active acid like the others. It is a molecule found naturally in the skin and most abundant in the skin. It acts like a sponge, holding a thousand times itself in water, making it a great product to add into your skincare regime after cleansing and before putting on your moisturiser or other daily serums.

One to ask the experts about

Skin Peels: With clinics currently closed, there has been an increase the sales of at-home skin peels that all contain different amounts of the acids above. Before applying these, it is best to seek medical advice from a skin specialist to ensure you are using the right peels for your skin type. Adonia are offering virtual consultations to help people find the best acids for their skin and to apply them safely.

When it comes to the best acids for midlife skin, Dr Ejikeme tells me: “I’d focus on the conditions most seen in older skin: dryness and pigmentation/sun spots. The best acids would, therefore, be lactic acid and glycolic acid.

“I’d also recommend adding in hyaluronic acid and retinoids into the skincare regime as these are great anti-agers.”

How to use skincare acids

If you’re just beginning to use facial acids, remember Samantha and start slow! Try your acid a couple of times a week to see if your skin suits it.

If any irritation occurs, stop!! If not, build up your use gradually.

Also, remember you’re removing the top layer of your skin, so it’s vital to use a good sunscreen for protection.

Visit Adonia for more information and virtual skincare consulations.

Do you use acids in your skincare? Which ones would you recommend? Leave me a comment below.

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