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Acids can be valuable additions to your skincare routine, but we completely understand -- they can be intimidating. The fear of over-exfoliating is real. However, armed with a little knowledge and a healthy dose of caution, you can effectively use acids in your skincare routine to clear pores, keep skin bright and luminous, and fade unwanted dark spots.
What Kinds Of Acids Are There?
The main categories of acids include AHA, BHA, and Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C), along with a growing interest in PHA.
AHA: Alpha Hydroxy Acids
The most popular AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid (though there are others). AHAs dissolve skin cells at the surface of the skin, allowing them to be sloughed off and revealing the smoother, younger-looking skin underneath. AHAs can help fade dark spots, give skin a glow, and keep pores clear to prevent breakouts.
Of the AHAs, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular structure, and penetrates deepest within the skin. It may provide faster results than other AHAs, but may also dry the skin out more than other forms. Mandelic acid has the largest molecular structure of the commonly-used AHAs, making it the gentlest AHA and a great choice for beginners.
BHA: Beta Hydroxy Acids
BHAs commonly used in KBeauty include both salicylic acid and betaine salicylate (a gentler form). BHAs are oil-soluble, unlike AHAs, so they have the ability to penetrate through sebum, reaching the inside of pores. This property makes BHAs great for exfoliating within pores, keeping pores clear and dislodging blackheads and clogs. Because BHAs have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, they make excellent acne treatments.
PHA: Poly Hydroxy Acids
PHAs are newer generation acid products that have larger molecular structures than AHAs. They provide exfoliation benefits without the potential side effects of irritation and dryness. Commonly used PHAs include gluconolactone and lactobionic acid. PHAs may be the easiest acids for beginners to try, and don’t need to be used in a particular order within a skincare routine.
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
The acidic form of vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is a great antioxidant that reverses sun damage, brightens skin, fights blemishes, and has anti-aging benefits. Like other acids, this form of vitamin C has the potential to cause irritation to sensitive skin, so beginners should start slow and build up their tolerance. Ascorbic acid can oxidize quickly, so for best results, ascorbic acid serums should be kept in a cool dark place and used up within a few months.
How Should You Use Acids In Your Skincare Routine?
Because acids are highly active substances, you’ll get the best results if you use them immediately after cleansing, or after a pH-adjusting toner. The idea is that the closer to your skin they are, the more effective acids can be at doing their work. Many acids come in a gel or liquid form, and can be carefully applied after washing your face.
The exception to this would be acids that come in a cream form, in which case you should use them after your serum step. If they are adequately moisturizing, they can replace your cream step.
How Often Should You Use Acids?
Before putting any product on your face, be sure to patch test on a small part of your skin to ensure you don’t have a reaction to the product.
If you’re a beginner to acids, we suggest using gentle acids once every other day, preferably at night (to minimize sun sensitivity). If your results are good when using every other day, you can move up to using acids once a day. If skin stings, feels itchy, irritated, or tight, scale back to using acids every 2 or 3 days.
If using a stronger peel with a high concentration of acid, be sure to follow the instructions on the package, as you may only be able to use it every week or two.
Can You Use Multiple Acids at Once?
You can use more than one acid throughout your day, but be very careful that you don’t over-exfoliate your skin. If skin feels tight, flaky and dry, or sensitive and irritated, scale back on your acid products. We recommend not using more than one acid at each skincare routine. You may choose to use vitamin C in your morning routine, and use a BHA or AHA in your evening routine.
Sun Protection Is Essential
When using exfoliating acids, your skin becomes more sensitive to the sun. Be sure to use an effective broad-spectrum sunscreen whenever you have exfoliated, and for at least a week afterwards (AHAs can make skin photosensitive for a week). Of course, we recommend using sunscreen every day, but it’s of particular importance when you’re also applying acids to your skin.
When using acids in your skincare routine, pay attention to the condition of your skin and adjust your use of acids accordingly. If skin feels tight or irritated, stop or slow down to prevent over-exfoliation, which can compromise your skin barrier and cause damage to the skin. However, when used with care, acids in your skincare routine can promote dramatic results -- glowing, smoother skin, and a clearer, more flawless complexion!