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Understanding acids in skincare

As promised, this month I’m talking all things acids. To start with, I want to introduce some of the most common acids we find in skincare products and treatments. I always say it’s so important that we understand what we’re putting on our skin and why.

Lactic Acid

Derived from milk, lactic acid belongs to a class of anti-ageing ingredient called alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). Acids in the same category, include glycolic and citric acid.

Lactic acid is often applied as a chemical peel onto bare skin. The acid works to remove the top layer of skin, epidermis. Stronger formulas may also target the middle layers of your skin, which is called dermis.

Despite the name, a chemical peel doesn’t noticeably “peel” off. However, after successful treatment, your skin should look smoother and brighter.

Suitable for: resurfacing and replenishing dehydrated and dry skin.

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is another type of AHA that is derived from sugar cane.

Glycolic acid is primarily used as an exfoliant. It works hard to help you to shed dead skin cells, revealing newer, brighter layers of skin, giving you a natural glow.

Because Glycolic acid molecules are so small, they can penetrate your skin deeper, doing some serious work to stimulate collagen production, helping to minimise fine lines and wrinkles while promoting firmer-looking skin.  

Useful for: stimulating improved collagen production.

Malic acid

Malic acid is also part of the AHA family. This mighty acid which was initially isolated from apple juice back in 1785 packs a punch. Today, it’s a common ingredient in shampoos, nail treatments, body lotions and acne and anti-ageing products.

Skincare products that contain malic acid are usually good for skin hydration, exfoliation, improved skin tone and smoothness and a reduction in wrinkles.

Good for: resurfacing and boosting collagen.

Bonus: you’ll also find malic acid in some of your favourite food such as berries, cherries, citrus fruits, plums, beans, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots and wine. Yes, you read that right.

Salicylic acid

Over the years, innovative formulations mean that this blemish-fighting powerhouse has earned its stripes as one of the most loved products on offer.

Salicylic acid sits within the skincare acid family, but it’s different from the others. Salicylic is classed as a beta hydroxy acid, and it’s the only one of its kind used in skincare.

The powerhouse which is naturally sourced from willow tree bark penetrates follicles to rid your skin of oil build-up, which in turn reduces and prevents pore blockages, acne and red spots.

Useful for: treating spots and acne gently.

PHAs (polyhydroxy acids)

Last but certainly not least are PHAs. Polyhydroxy acids which are considered the ‘cousins’ of AHAs are chemical exfoliants. The most popular PHAs that you might find in your skincare products are galactose and gluconolactone acid.

Similar to AHAs, PHAs work by exfoliating dead skin cells on the surface of our skin, resulting in an even skin tone and texture.

Suitable for: hydration and deep penetration of a product which is to be applied afterwards.

Understanding acids is not something that can be done overnight, while it’s helpful to know what you’re putting on your face, there’s more to it. Trusting a therapist who knows some chemistry is always advisable when it comes to skincare. We know how to apply each acid for specific conditions, yielding the best results without harming your skin with harsh chemicals.  

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