Active Ingredients: Citric Acid

Tiffany Ong Beauty Expert
Active Ingredients: Citric Acid

A chemical exfoliant we've ignored but shouldn't

I think by now we’ve all been quite familiar with and accustomed to chemical exfoliants, like glycolic acid or salicylic acid. But in comes another acid that is widely used in skincare by rarely talked about, though it deserves the same spotlight. And this is citric acid.

Citric acid is part of the AHA family (glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid) and is extracted from citrus fruit such as lemons, oranges, limes, grapefruits, and can even be derived from some berries. Like all AHAs, citric acid is a chemical exfoliant that can help slough off dead skin cells, revealing a brighter skin tone and improving overall complexion. However, there are some qualities unique to citric acid that makes it stand out from other AHAs and BHAs.



Exfoliates the skin

  • Like all AHAs, citric acid works to de-glue the dead skin cells that are laying on the surface on the skin and this promotes cell turnover. By doing so, this will help to unclog the pores, even out the skin and improve the overall texture and complexion of the skin.
  • The biggest difference between citric acid and other AHAs is its molecular size. Citric acid molecules are larger than glycolic acid (the smallest AHA) but smaller than lactic, pyretic and tartaric acid. A larger molecular size means that it is harder for the skin to absorb the citric acid, making it less potent and more gentle, hence, suitable for people with sensitive skin.

Natural astringent

  • People will oily skin, pay attention! Citric acid is a natural astringent that helps to unclog the pores of excess sebum, leaving the skin feeling clean.

Contains antioxidants properties

  • Unique to citric acid is that it contains protective antioxidants qualities that can fight against free radicals and external stressors and prevent oxidative stress from damaging the skin.
  • Oxidative stress damage is primarily the culprit behind ageing skin, hence, antioxidants will diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation or any other ageing skin concerns.

pH balancer

  • Another benefit unique to citric acid is that it helps to balance out pH levels in products. The skin’s normal pH level is between 4.5 and 5.75, products with a higher or lower pH level may irritate the skin or deplete the skin’s natural fats.
  • If the skin’s pH becomes too alkaline, the skin’s barrier function will be damaged and a weakened skin barrier is the root of most if not all skin concerns.


What to note?

  • Although citric acid is milder than most acids, it is still an acid, meaning that there will be a possibility of irritation, especially those with hypersensitive skin or inflamed skin conditions like rosacea.
  • Citric acid can be paired with AHAs or BHAs, however, this may cause more irritation.
  • Do avoid using citric acid in conjunction with retinol as irritation or redness may likely follow. If your skincare regime consists of both, use citric acid in the AM and retinol in the PM.
  • After applying citric acid, or any acids for that matter, it is crucial to follow up with sunscreen because acids can cause your skin to be more sensitive to UV rays.
  • Do conduct a patch test prior as with all new products/ingredients.


Products we recommend 

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

the ordinary aha 30 bha 2 peeling solution

With 30% AHA (Glycolic, Lactic, Tartaric, Citric) and 2% BHA (Salicylic acid),  hyaluronic acid crosspolymer, vitamin b5, black carrot and Tasmanian pepperberry. This combined 32% AHA/BHA solution offers deep exfoliation to help fight visible blemishes, reduces the look of fine lines and improves skin radiance and texture.


La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel

This purifying foaming gel gently purifies oily skin without overly dying your skin. It removes impurities and excess sebum without effecting the skin’s pH level. Perfect for those with oily or acne prone skin.


The INKEY List Hepta-Peptide Serum

A peptide serum that helps to promote skin renewal, targets visible signs of ageing and smooths the skin - providing an instant blurring effect.

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