Skincare acids explained

Acids are game-changers. They’re the quickest way to get glowing skin, in my experience, and I’ve found them to key to preventing breakouts (along with using only oil-free products). But what are the major ones and what are the differences? It can be hard to know which to use when and on what type of skin. For the most part I use these pads from Dr. Dennis Gross. I trust his products implicitly so I know I don’t need to read his labels closely. I was nonethless curious to learn about the various acids popular in today’s skincare products. With that in mind I turned to Dr. Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City and she gave me an amazing breakdown of all the popular acids.

Glycolic acid 
“Glycolic acid is an exfoliant. It’s an alpha hydroxy acid that helps shed dead skin cells and reveal the newer, brighter layers underneath by acting on the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin). It is small so it can penetrate into the dermis where it stimulates collagen, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and make the skin feel firmer. It’s best for people with normal, combination and oily skin types. It should be avoided in anyone with dry or highly sensitive skin.”

Lactic Acid
“All alpha hydroxy acids exfoliate and improve skin texture, but lactic acid has an extra benefit you won’t get from its AHA cousins. Lactic acid helps improve the skin’s natural moisture factor, or the way the skin keeps itself hydrated. Basically, lactic acid helps to keep the skin moisturized and feeling less dry. When you start using lactic acid, you must be committed to protecting your skin from the sun.”

Retinoic Acid
“Retinoic acid is a member of the over 4,000-strong family of retinoids, which are compounds derived from retinol or vitamin A or compounds structurally similar to it. Topical vitamin A–based drugs called retinoids—the most used and most studied anti-aging compounds— may reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Retinoids reduce fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen. They also stimulate the production of new blood vessels in the skin, which improves skin color.You can start retinoids as early as 20’s. It does make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Anyone with irritated sensitive skin should not use or use with caution. Also if pregnant you should not use.”

Salicylic acid
“It’s a beta hydroxy acid. It is derived from willow bark which makes it more oil soluble so it can penetrate deep into pores. This quality is precisely what makes salicylic acid such a potent ingredient for targeting acne, specially for blackheads and whiteheads. It dissolves skin debris that clogs pores and works as an anti-inflammatory. The breaking down of skin cells also promotes exfoliation. One can definitely overuse salicylic acid, so anyone with sensitive, irritated skin needs to be careful. It should be avoided in pregnancy.”

Hyaluronic Acid
“Also known as hyaluronan, it’s a clear, gooey substance that is naturally produced by your body. The largest amounts of it are found in your skin, connective tissue, and eyes. It’s main function is to retain water to keep your tissues well lubricated and moist. It promotes healthier supple skin and can speed up wound healing by regulating inflammation levels and signaling the body to build more blood vessels. It really benefits every skin type at any age.”

Ascorbic Acid
“Also known as L-ascorbic acid it has the most skin-related research of any form of vitamin C. When properly formulated (this ingredient is finicky), ascorbic acid helps create younger-looking, firmer-feeling skin while signs of uneven skin tone and spots seem to disappear. Ascorbic acid also helps skin’s surface defend itself from external stressors, lessening the effects of exposure to the elements. Anyone with sensitive skin can develop allergies or redness to vitamin C. It’s recommended to start at a lower concentration and work your way up.”

Image: Vogue

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