Nothing works to improve your skin faster than a hit of acid. We’re talking cosmetic grade acid, natch, ranging from alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and hyaluronic acid(HA) to the lesser known polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) and azelaic acid.
They’re the mega-multitaskers of skincare ingredients, working to smooth lines, tighten pores, erase dark spots and give you some serious glow.
Here’s how and why acids should be a part of your skincare staples plus a guide to our ultimate faves.
How often should you use AHAs, BHAs and PHAs?
It sounds obvious but it’s important to read product instructions first. There are some acids that can be used twice a day and others that are for weekly use only. “You’ll need to adjust how often you use any type of acid depending on how your skin reacts,” says Debbie Thomas, celebrity facialist and skincare specialist. Start with an acid-containing cleanser. “It’s an easy and inexpensive way to introduce acids into your regime.”
Once your skin is tolerating it well then gradually introduce another product. And always wear an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin after all that skin-sloughing goodness goes down.
Want an all-over Insta filter effect? Use AHAs
AHAs are generally natural-derived, made from sugar, milk and fruit and they vary in molecular size. The smaller the molecule, the easier it gets into skin. Glycolic acid is the smallest of all the AHAs so it penetrates the deepest into the skin and gives the best results when it comes to anti-ageing, exfoliating and breaking up pigmentation. But it can also cause irritation so sensitive skin types should use it sparingly.
Lactic and malic acids are larger molecules so they’re gentler and also help to hydrate dry skin. While citric acid has an antioxidative effect on skin and helps build collagen, too. Mandelic acid is the least irritating. Unlike other AHA’s it’s attracted to oil so it both exfoliates and dissolves the build-up of oils, bacteria and skin cells in pores.” “It’s also antibacterial and anti-microbial so it’s a good one for rosacea sufferers too,” says Debbie.
Mandelic acid is the skincare superhero your beauty regime has been missing, here’s what you need to know…
Our AHA faves…
For Glycolic Acid try:
Glycolic Foaming Cleanser, £14, Mario Badescu
For Lactic Acid try:
Exfolikate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment, £21, Kate Somerville
For Malic Acid try:
Prism Natural Fruit Acids 5% Exfoliating Glow Potion, £52, Herbivore
For Mandelic Acid try:
Mandelic Acid 10% Serum, £9, Garden of Wisdom
For a Citric Acid AHA mix try:
Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask, £36, REN
Got oily skin? Zap stubborn spots with BHAs
There’s only one BHA and that’s salicylic acid, which comes from the bark of the willow tree. “Like mandelic acid it softens and dislodge the grit that’s sitting in our pores, causing acne eruptions,” says Pamela Marshall, Clinical Aesthetician and Co-Founder of Mortar Milk. But it’s also a proven anti-inflammatory agent. “It helps reduce the cycle of inflammation that causes the redness and pigmentation you can get from acne,” says Dr. Ross Perry, Medical Director of Cosmedics.
Everything you need to know about salicylic acid and how it can beat your blemishes
Our BHA Faves…
Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, £26, Paula’s Choice
Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel, £87 for 30, Dr. Dennis Gross
If you’ve got sensitive skin, rosacea or are prone to eczema, PHA’s are for you
Known as Gluconolactone, Lactobionic Acid and Maltobionic Acid these are the second generation AHAs. “They do everything an AHA does, albeit slower and far more gently because they only work on the surface of the skin,” says Pamela. “They’re great for all skin types especially sensitive types because they’re incredibly hydrating and anti-inflammatory and are fantastic at strengthening the skin’s barrier function.”
Our PHA faves…
Night Switch PHA/AHA 10%, £28, Lixir
PHA + Bio Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads, £65 for 50, Zelens
Despite it’s name, this acid doesn’t exfoliate. “It’s a hydrating ingredient that helps create volume in our skin,” says Dr. Perry. It firms and plumps by attracting water molecules together and gives skin that lit-from-within effect.
Hyaluronic acid is 2018’s skincare hero, but what does it actually do?
Our Hyaluronic Acid faves…
Hyaluronic Acid serum, £4.99, The Inkey List
H.A Intensifier, £85, Skinceuticals
Acne sufferers will love Azelaic Acid
Azelaic comes from grains like wheat and barley and belongs to a class of medication called dicarboxylic acids. “It treats acne by killing the bacteria that infects skin pores,” says Dr. Perry.
Our Azelaic Acid faves…
10% Azelaic Acid Booster, £37, Paula’s Choice
Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, £5.50, The Ordinary
So what’s the deal on using different acids together?
If you want a line-free complexion it’s all about power pairing your acids. But proceed with caution. “When an AHA is formulated with a PHA then using it daily can be amazing for acneic skin,” says Pamela. Many products now combine AHAs and BHAs together. According to Dr. Perry, this maximises the benefits of each for concerns like acne, sun damage, and clogged pores, and exfoliates more thoroughly. “Alternatively you could use an AHA and a BHA on alternate nights of the week to get the best results from each acid.”