As beauty ingredients go, skincare acids sound a bit daunting, but nothing works to improve your skin quite like a topical exfoliating acid. They are certified overachievers, working to soften fine lines, tighten the look of pores, fade dark spots and boost your glow.
Whether you’re a confident acid user or yet to give them a go, we’ve answered your FAQs, including how to use them correctly (without causing irritation), when to use them in your routine, how to choose the right one for your skin type and more.
First things first, what are skincare acids?
In essence, topical exfoliating acids can be found in a number of skincare formulations. There is an array of different acids (which you’ll often see referred to as AHAs, BHAs and PHAs – but more on that later), and each type has a different effect on the skin from decongesting pores to brightening skin tone.
What’s the difference between using an exfoliating acid vs a physical scrub?
“While physical scrubs have been the traditional way to exfoliate, we now know that these can be very harsh on the skin and can cause micro tears,” explain the experts. “A chemical exfoliant is a fantastic way to slough away dead cells gently to reveal a smoother, brighter complexion.”
How to introduce acids into your skincare routine
According to the experts, it’s recommended that you start using an exfoliating acid two to three times a week: “It’s important to slowly build up use so that your skin can develop a tolerance to the new ingredient. You can also start with exfoliating acids that have a larger molecule size. This means that they don’t penetrate the skin as deeply therefore avoiding any irritation risk. Examples from our range include the PHA Toner and Lactic Acid Serum.”
How to choose the right acids to complement your skin type or tackle your skin concern
While all acids can be effective, it’s important to know which one is best for your skin type and your skin goals. The two most common types of exfoliating acids are Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs), but Poly-Hydroxy Acids (PHAs) are also cropping up more often. Which one is right for you? The experts explains all:
• AHA’s: Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Mandelic Acid, Tartaric Acid
“AHAs are chemical exfoliators. Water-soluble, they work on the surface of your skin, encouraging cell turnover to reveal a brighter, more even complexion. Use in the PM and protect your skin with SPF during the day.”
• BHAs: Salicylic Acid
“BHAs are also chemical exfoliators. They are oil-soluble, which means they work deeper in your pores, helping to target blackheads and reduce the bacteria that can lead to breakouts. Use AM or PM and protect your skin with SPF during the day.”
• PHAs: Gluconolactone Acid, Galactose Acid, Lactobionic Acid
“PHAs have a larger molecular structure than AHAs and they exfoliate in a milder manner. And, unlike AHAs, they don’t increase your skin’s sun sensitivity or vulnerability to sun damage. They’re suitable for all skin types as they penetrate the skin slower without causing irritation.”
Another tip: “We would also recommend that every skin type use our hero hydrator Hyaluronic Acid Serum morning and night as a fantastic moisture magnet and to help draw other products deeper into the skin. Without locking in moisture, exfoliating acids can leave the skin feeling dehydrated so using Hyaluronic Acid will also help to prevent this.”
How often should you use AHAs, BHAs and PHAs?
Always check the product instructions. It’s obvious advice, but there are some acids that can be used twice a day and others should only be once a day or even less. It’s also wise to adjust how often you use an exfoliating acid depending on how your skin responds – start slowly and build up usage once your skin is tolerating it well.
Are there any acids that you shouldn’t mix?
If you’re using an exfoliating acid and also want to use Retinol, the experts recommend using them on alternate evenings. The same can be said for mixing with Vitamin C, however you should use Vitamin C in the AM and AHAs in the PM.
“It’s also important not to double-up on exfoliating acids in the same part of your recipe. E.g. If you’ve used Glycolic Acid in the evening don’t layer with BHA at the same time as this can cause irritation.”
How about acid combinations that work well together?
“Hydrating acids and exfoliating acids work really well together as despite both being labelled as an ‘acid’ they do very different things. We would always recommend using Hyaluronic Acid in your recipe and this can be paired with any other products you wish to use in your skincare recipe. In addition to this, adding an AHA, PHA or BHA into your routine can also be very beneficial depending on your skin type and concerns.”
The key takeaway? “Our biggest tip would be to make sure you’re selecting an acid that will target your concerns while also working well with your skin type. Always start slow and remember that consistency is better than overusing.