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5 Acids for Skin Care You Need to Know About

Filed in: Clean Beauty

Acids for skin

Using Acids in Skin Care: A Complete Guide

Acids for skin care sounds scary… But read on. The quest for glowing skin is always top of mind for many beauty addicts like me! There are so many active ingredients for achieving radiant skin that it becomes dizzying for any newbie to decide which one they should be using as part of their skin care routine.

The fact is many active ingredients like acids are found in almost all our face products. They are in cleansers, toners, serums, and moisturizers. I have normal skin but it’s sensitive so I have to be careful with the different acids that may contribute to more sensitivity. So in this blog post I’m going to reveal the different types of acids for skin and which ones you should use based on your skin type and concern. 

1. Hyaluronic Acid

Good for: dry, aging skin

Where does it come from?

Hyaluronic acid is naturally produced in the body, and is what helps gives our skin a youthful glow. Unfortunately our body produces less as we age which results in duller-looking skin. 

What does it do?

If dewy skin is what you’re after it’s probably because of hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is a humectant. What that means is it helps the skin absorb and hold water that keeps our skin looking plump and hydrated. 

Hyaluronic acid for skin is safe for all skin types but those with rosacea or eczema should always do a test patch to make sure it doesn’t irritate skin.

Recommended products:

Look for product that has 2% in concentration. Anything more than that can actually dry out your skin. 

acids in skin


acids in skin

2. Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)

Good for: exfoliating, improving mild skin texture, skin brightening

Where does it come from?

Alpha hydroxy acid is an acid for skin derived from food and plant sources like sugar, milk, and fruits. 

What types are there?

There are several different types of alpha hydroxy acids used for skin care.

  • citric (derived from citrus fruits)
  • mandelic (derived from plants)
  • lactic acid (derived from milk)
  • glycolic acid (derived from sugar)

What does it do?

AHAs brighten the skin and improve hyperpigmentation due to sun exposure. Since AHAs are water soluble they don’t penetrate the pores as deeply, so they’re best for addressing surface skin issues. Most skin types can handle AHAs but those with sensitive skin should monitor their usage to avoid further sensitivity and irritation. 

Recommended Products

acids in skin

acids for skin


Never combine Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids with Retinol. When the two active ingredients are used together, they can cause excessive dryness, redness and irritation. Instead, use a lactic, glycolic or any type of exfoliating acid in the morning and a retinol cream at night.

RELATED: How to Choose the Right Exfoliator

3. Salicylic or beta hydroxy acid (BHA)

Good for: unclogging pores for oily and acne-prone skin

Where does it come from?

Salicylic acid is a white solid first isolated from the bark of willow trees. The most common BHA for skin care is salicylic acid, which works as a deep exfoliator in your skin. 

What does it do?

Because salicylic acid for skin is oil-soluble it is able to break through the buildup of bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells in the pore lining and dissolve them, which unclogs pores and can help prevent breakouts from happening.

BHAs tend to penetrate deeper than AHAs, so they are good for oily or acne-prone skin. Those with sensitive skin may experience dryness. 

Recommended Products

Salicylic acid is best used in the evening, unless you are using a retinoid at night. Never use retinoids and salicylic acid together because it will cause your skin more irritation and dryness. 

acids in skin

4. Vitamin C or ascorbic acid

Good for: Brightening skin, antioxidant protection, stimulating collagen, help lighten dark spots 

What is it?

Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) is a powerful antioxidant found in serums, exfoliants, and moisturizers. 

What does it do?

Vitamin C helps protect the skin from free radical damage from environmental factors like pollution or the sun. It can also prevent signs of aging by boosting collagen synthesis and brighten & even skin tone. Vitamin C protects the skin from UV damage and it suppresses pigmentation (goodbye, dark spots!).

Vitamin C is generally well tolerated by all skin types, and works well if you’re looking to address hyperpigmentation concerns.

Recommended Products and Recommendations

  • Since different skincare products contain different percentages of vitamin C you should look for stable 10% to 20% L-ascorbic acid like Sunday Riley C.E.O. which contains 15%. If you have sensitive skin you may want to start with 5% and then work your way up. If you’re looking for a heavier dose, you will likely see better results more quickly the higher you go. But after 20%  percent you’re not going to see more benefits than 20% so there’s no reason to pay more.
  • Look for a specific type of vitamin C, tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate like Sunday Riley C.E.O. Glow Vitamin C & Turmeric Face Oil which is a stable form of ascorbic acid which is less irritating as an acid for skin and is generally tolerated by all skin types. 
  • Vitamin C is best used in the morning before your SPF because of its free radical protection, something your skin generally needs more of during the day due to pollution and UV rays. Because vitamin C has a reservoir effect you don’t need to use it in the evening since the effects on the skin will last up to 24 hours. So once a day is more than enough. 
  • Because the PH of the product is low you may experience a slight stinging sensation upon application. This is totally normal especially for those with sensitive skin. 


acids in skin

acids in skin


Vitamin C and retinol should never be combined together since they work in different pH environments. If you want to use them both; use vitamin C serum at night and retinol cream in the evening. 

You should also be cautious when using Vitamin C with hydroxy acid products because both are made in acidic formulations; the combination can be more irritating for the skin.  However, oily skin types may be able to handle it.

5. Retinoic acid

Good for: Stimulating collagen and cell turnover, exfoliation

Where does it come from? 

Retinoic acid for skin is derived from a compound that we know as Vitamin A, which is fat-soluble and primarily found in two forms: retinol and carotenoids. Retinoic acid is synthesized in the body from retinol, which is derived from a precursor found in animal foods such as milk and eggs.

What does it do?

Retinoic acid is one of the best products for aging skin. It’s very effective for keeping your skin looking youthful because it directly stimulates collagen.

Retinoids—prescription or OTC—can irritate the skin, so it’s best to start slow and work your way up. In addition you want to start with a lower concentration since they range in strengths from 0.1 to 1.0 percent.

acids in skin


When it comes to acids for skin there’s no one size fits all. Many of these acids for skin may be too aggressive for your skin so be mindful of which ones to use and which ones to avoid. Acids are best used in the evening but if you prefer to use it in the daytime you’ll have to load up on the sunscreen. 

acids in skin

Disclosure: All products featured on my blog are independently selected by Anna Bennett. Please note that some of the products above are Amazon affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have personally purchased and used these clean beauty products because they simply work, not because of the small commissions I make. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your skin, beauty, and health goals.

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