A Guide to The Different Types of Skincare Acids
If the mere mention of using acid on your skin seems a little scary, fear not.
Some of todays’ most innovative skin care treatments rely on acids to energize the skin and reveal renewed vibrancy.
There’s lots of gain, with zero pain (acids don’t need to sting or burn to be effective – in fact, they shouldn’t).
What makes an acid an acid?
Let’s start with a quick refresher on the pH scale: pH stands for “potential of Hydrogen,” and ranges from 0-14. Acids are at the lower end of this scale.
For example, the natural pH of healthy human skin is 5.5, meaning that it’s mildly acidic — and your skin likes it that way!
Plain water is pH-neutral, usually testing at 7.
Substances that test at 7 or above are base, “basic,” or alkaline, and generally make skin unhappy.
Here’s a quick list of acids that are commonly used in skin care products.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid– Otherwise known as AHA, this is used as a chemical exfoliant, meaning that it dissolves the bonds that makes dead skin cells stick together. AHAs work on the skin’s surface to help retain moisture.
Ascorbic Acid – Found in vitamin C,this ingredient is a superstar for brightening the skin. It also regulates melanin to correct dark spots and sun damage, plus energizes collagen synthesis for firmer skin. Ascorbic acid plays the key role in our Vita-Boost vitamin C infusion serum, working to brighten and deeply moisturize — acting as part of a daily multi-vitamin for your skin.
Caprylic Acid – Prized in goat’s milk, but more commonly sourced from coconut oil and palm kernel oil, this saturated fatty acid calms inflammation in the skin, including acne. It’s an active ingredient in our To the Point, 50 Fierce, Face It, You Look Amazing, and Starlight, Face Bright to reduce redness and irritation—even sunburn. Stopping inflammation helps to prevent hyperpigmentation, and leaves skin even and clear.
Ferulic Acid – This plant-based antioxidant found in bran and other grains also stabilizes vitamins C and E in skincare products, allowing these active ingredients to deliver their most powerful results.
Glycolic Acid – This fast-acting, small-molecule AHA originally derived from sugarcane is now available in a more stable, synthetic form. As a chemical exfoliant, it unglues dead skin cells, so it’s often used to treat and prevent acne or to simply purify pores. It’s also great for lifting off dark spots and smoothing skin. Not to mention, it’s the perfect prep for other ingredients by helping them absorb better.
Hyaluronic Acid– Hyaluronic acid is a type of acid, not one specific acid. For instance, ferulic acid is considered a hyaluronic acid. These clear, gooey acids occur naturally in our skin, eyes, cartilage, and joints, keeping them flexible and lubricated. It’s hydrophilic (which means it attracts water), and can hold up to 1000 times its own weight in moisture. This acid also nourishes and repairs our collagen, helping to keep skin plump and firm. Matched with peach blossom and ginseng in our Fine Lines & Wrinkles Mask, hyaluronic acid leaves skin smooth, rested and radiant after just a 15-minute disco nap! In the mix with peptides, hyaluronic acid in our Live Life Lifted cream refines and tightens that most vulnerable part of our extended complexion, the neck and upper chest—you may not know it, but the skin there is just as delicate as your facial skin and deserves daily attention.
Kojic Acid – Named for koji, a variety of Japanese mushroom, this acid is also a by-product of brewing sake and soy sauce — yum! In skin care products, kojic acid blocks melanin production and works as a dark spot corrector to even out pigmentation and brighten the skin. In our To the Point and Let There Be Bright,this botanical acid lightens and prevents dark spots for a clear, radiant glow.
Lactic Acid – This is an AHA with a slightly larger molecule than glycolic acid, making it a bit milder. This acid leads a double life: at 2% concentration, it’s hydrating, while between 5%-10%, it’s a great exfoliant. Originally derived from milk, the lab-version of this acid is more stable in formulation, so it’s more effective.
Linoleic Acid – This essential fatty acid is found in olives, sunflower, and safflower seed oils, plumping and softening skin with deeply hydrating botanical goodness.
Malic Acid-- We use this AHA derived from apples in our Foaming Joy purifying cleanser to gently loosen dry skin cells and instantly reveal a fresher glow with just a simple face-wash.
Oleic Acid – This fatty acid is found in many foods including olives, macadamia nuts, and sunflower seeds. It leaves skin hydrated and glowing by restoring lost moisture, and also by preventing moisture from evaporating. This rich but non-clogging acid calms irritated skin, and is packed with antioxidants.
Retinoic Acid – Retinoids are derived from vitamin A, and re-program skin cells to turn over faster and produce more collagen and elastin for firmness and contour. Retinoids also stop excess melanin from forming, to gradually correct dark spots and for overall skin brightening. Use our Welcome Back Youth as a weekly evening treatment for firmer, brighter, bouncier skin.
Salicylic Acid – This acid works as an instant botanical relief for breakouts, especially blackheads and whiteheads. Derived from willow-bark, salicylic is oil-soluble, so it easily slips through the lipid layers of your skin to exfoliate dead cells and dissolve keratin plugs that cause inflammation and ingrown hairs.
Depending on your skin care concern, look for products containing these acids as active ingredients:
- Acne: azelaic, glycolic, salicylic
- Age-defying: ascorbic, ferulic, glycolic, lactic
- Pigmentation issues: ascorbic,azelaic,ferulic, glycolic, kojic, lactic, linoleic.
Is it okay to mix it up?
Before going all-in with a new product, try a patch-test.
Just dab a bit of the product behind your ear, or on the inside of your elbow, and wait 24 hours.
If your skin protests with redness or stinging, try something milder to be on the safe side.
Be aware of which acids you’re using in your routine, as mixing certain acids can lead to dry or irritated skin.
Robin McGraw Revelation skin care routines are a safe and effective way to use acids as active ingredients for maximum anti-aging benefits.