Acids have been all abuzz in the skincare world for a while now—and for good reason. Used correctly, these exfoliating powerhouses boast a host of skincare benefits for all skin types. Whether you have dry, dehydrated, oily, or mature skin, there’s an acid out there for you, promising the glowy skin of your dreams. We get it, though: acids can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know where to start. The world of acids is vast, and different acids will have different effects on your skin. The trick is knowing your skin type and how each acid can benefit your skin. Luckily, we’ve got a crash course for you.
What’s the difference among face acids?
First, let’s start with the basics: AHAs and BHAs. AHAs, or alpha-hydroxy acids, are water-soluble acids derived mainly from sugar or dairy products. They are mainly used to exfoliate the skin by removing dead cells from the skin’s surface, making them perfect for those of us with dry, dehydrated, or mature skin types. BHAs, or beta-hydroxy acids, on the other hand, are oil-soluble, and thus are great at unclogging pores and targeting spots—so they’re a go-to for oily-skinned and acne-prone folk.
But wait, there’s more: a gentler alternative that has been trending are PHAs, or poly-hydroxy acids. PHAs mimic the effect of AHAs, meaning they eat away at dead skin cells at the surface, but minimize the risk of over-exfoliation and dryness. They’re a newer generation of chemical exfoliant that’s giving AHA a run for its money.
The strength of both AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs are determined by the type, concentration, and pH level; this means that not all acids are created equal.
What acid is best for me?
Dehydrated Skin: Lactic Acid
If your skin is tight, lacks moisture, and is often as dry as the desert, lactic acid can do wonders to get you the glass skin you’ve always dreamed of. Lactic acid has comparatively larger molecules than other AHAs, making it gentler on the skin. What’s more is that lactic acid has hydrating properties—it’s considered a humectant, like hyaluronic acid or glycerin, meaning that it attracts moisture to itself. Exfoliating and hydrating your skin? That’s a win in our book.
Lactic Acid 5% + HA, P566, THE ORDINARY, Shopee
Mature Skin: Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is a bit of a step up from lactic acid. It’s great for mature skin types as its smaller molecular size means it can penetrate deeper than other AHAs. This makes it more effective, but also more drying and irritating—so tread carefully if you’re a beginner. Glycolic acid is a powerful one, and is a gold standard for targeting hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and other signs of aging. Like lactic acid, it’s also a humectant, so it can also help target the dryness that’s associated with more mature skin types.
Glycolic Exfoliating Toner, P875, GOOD MOLECULES, Lazada
Sensitive Skin: Mandelic Acid
One of the gentlest AHAs, mandelic acid has the ability to resurface the skin without irritation. It has a larger molecular size than even lactic acid, so if even that causes your skin to redden like a tomato, mandelic acid might be your best bet. Mandelic acid can help treat dullness, hyperpigmentation, and clogged pores without further exacerbating a compromised skin barrier.
Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water, P1250, BY WISHTREND, BeautyMNL
Oily or Acne-Prone Skin: Salicylic Acid
If you have stubborn clogged pores you need to clear, salicylic acid will be your best friend. It works by “ungluing” dead skin cells and sloughing them off the skin. Derived from willow bark, this skin-clearing ingredient can penetrate the pores to clear out sebum, resulting in a smoother, more luminous complexion. As a bonus, it also has an anti-inflammatory effect, helping to calm down active breakouts and soothing irritation.
Salicylic Acid Cleanser, P755.25, THE INKEY LIST, Beauty Bar
Reactive Skin: Gluconolactone
Considered a relative of AHAs, gluconolactone, the most common type of PHA, has an even larger molecular structure than AHAs, meaning that it’s the least likely acid to irritate your skin. Like AHAs, gluconolactone also has humectant properties, hydrating the skin as it works to slough off dead skin cells and promote cell turnover. If your skin has difficulty tolerating even a low dose of AHAs or BHAs, gluconolactone is a perfect alternative, as it works mostly at the surface of the skin and does not penetrate as deeply as other acids.
Balancing Face Toner, P189.75, HUMAN NATURE, Lazada
The Bottom Line
Chemical exfoliating your skin with acids is a tried-and-tested way to smoother, brighter, and more even skin. Always remember to go slow when introducing an acid into your skincare routine; at the beginning, less is certainly more. Listen to your skin, and allow it to build up a tolerance before ramping up your usage. Your skin barrier will thank you!
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