Skincare acids are no longer reserved for monthly facials with a dermatologist, having become a mainstay of our bathroom shelves. But are they for everyone? We have a tendency in beauty to follow the leaders, whether or not our skin agrees, but with something as harsh as an acid, this isn't always wise.
What types of skincare acids are there?
First things first; it's important to understand the distinctions between acids. "There are different kinds of acids used in skincare – some are very beneficial. For example, hyaluronic acid, which helps refill the skin's moisture reservoirs due to its very high ability to bind water," celebrity facialist and dermatologist Dr. Barbara Sturm explains. "Hyaluronic acid is a natural component of our skin whose production diminishes with age. We can replenish it through topical application or supplemented oral intake." A good serum with Hyaluronic acid would be The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5.
Next up, there are AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids). "All acids have an exfoliating effect but AHAs can be used by all skin types, while BHAs are good for people with problematic skin as they have an antibacterial effect and prevent clogged pores,” says Lixir Skin founder Colette Haydon.
"Each acid offers a special benefit: Lactic acid improves hydration, lactobionic acid reduces oxidative stress (which makes your skin look dull and grey) and phytic acid eliminates heavy metals to detoxify the skin. Salicylic acid is antibacterial and prevents clogged pores and azelaic acid controls sebum."
Which acid should I use on my skin?
When there are so many options, how do we know what will work for our skin type? Should someone with sensitive skin be using it as much or in as high a concentration as someone with dry skin? And does age come into it at all?
The 'good' acids like hyaluronic acid or citric acids support the skin with moisture, strong anti-oxidative effects and other valuable benefits. The acids that damage the skin, however, cause a serious disruption of its protective barrier and often cause dehydration. They accelerate the cell renewal and cause a long-term effect of the skin thinning out, as the cells cannot divine infinity. This affects all skin types, but someone with very sensitive skin might suffer a faster negative response, which could lead to serious cases of hyperkeratosis.
How should I apply skin acid?
So once you've found a good acid that works for your skin type, and made sure it's lower than 10% in concentration and above 3.5% pH level, the next step is making sure you apply it properly. "It’s very important to only apply acid at night and never use it on holiday when you’re exposed to the sun," Haydon warns. Of course, apply SPF every day when using acids, too.
What alternatives to acids are there?
If you think your skin is too sensitive, or you've had bad reactions in the past but still want that cobweb-blasting exfoliation, there are alternatives to acids. Vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, is an acid but it’s not an AHA, so it won’t exfoliate your skin and it will just give you a magic quick fix of radiance. It’s a wonderful ingredient, one of the most active of them all and is increasingly beneficial to your skin with continued use.
An alternative to AHAs are called PHAs (Polyhydroxy Acids) and bionic acids, which carry similar effects of AHA without the possibility of skin irritation. PHA is more compatible with sensitive skin, has better moisturising activity and enhances skin barrier function. So whether you stick with the popular acids in your skincare routine, or you try out their alternatives, there are countless ways to get the glow this winter.