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The A to Z of Acids For Your Face

Acids on your skin may sound scary as heck, but there actually are some that are really good for you. You may already be using them in your skin routine.
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Attempting to decode the strange chemicals on the back of your facial cleanser might only leave you more confused than before. Been there, done that. Sometimes, we read the word “acid” on our labels, and do a little shriek as we frantically type it into google, only to heave a sigh of relief upon the realisation that contrary to how it sounds, “ascorbic acid” will not burn our faces off.

The terms alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) might come off as extremely foreign to you, but there’s a high chance that you’ve encountered one of these in your serums or exfoliators before. In a nutshell, these plant-derived acids will melt the intercellular glue that holds our skin cells together, effectively and gently removing the top layer of dead skin cells.

The main difference between the three? AHAs are water-soluble, target dry and damaged surface skin, with the added benefits of hydration and brightening. BHAs are oil-soluble pore-cleansing miracle workers that treats blackheads and clears sebum, but is also great for balancing oily skin. PHAs are derived compounds of AHAs, but is more suitable for sensitive skin, especially if you have previously experienced irritation from the latter.

It’s strongly advisable to use SPF in your skincare routine and over your makeup to avoid hyperpigmentation, since these chemical exfoliants will leave your skin photosensitive and just sensitive in general. It’s also important to test out any new products regardless whether it’s acid or not, somewhere discreet like your neck below your ears. Below, we’re covering the different purposes of popular to lesser-known acids. Not quite A to Z, but still plenty to know. Let’s begin.


Salicylic Acid (BHA)

This one’s the most well known of the lot, and for good reason, too. It’s magical properties include being anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-acne. Best for oily skin. We recommend the 111Skin Ground Control Anti Blemish Tonic that’s going to help with clearing up those red spots.



Glycolic Acid (AHA)

Also on the popular list, this one takes the cake for smallest molecules; meaning that it can effectively penetrate the skin and clean out gunk quickly. However, this also means that it will irritate the skin more, and is not as gentle as other AHAs. A cleansing pad like this Elizabeth Arden Skin Illuminating Retexturizing Pads will allow for an easy control of how much product you’re using.


Hyaluronic Acid (AHA)

We could never leave this acid out. Popping up everywhere for its hydrating properties, this one moisturises more than it exfoliates or peels. Because it plumps up the skin, it’s also a great anti-aging product, and is commonly injected under the skin during aesthetic procedures. Try this Demarché Labs Fullfill Hyaluronic Acid Topical Wrinkle Filler that’ll give you similar results.


Citric Acid (AHA/BHA)

Depending on the formula, citric acid can bend both ways. Derived from citrus fruits (surprise surprise), these have anti-aging properties and is also an antioxidant. Susanne Kaufmann Hyaluron Serum consists of the wonderful citric acid, ensuring a smoother and firmer appearance.


Lactic Acid (AHA)

Sensitive skin-types are more inclined to use this, and is notably gentler than glycolic acid. Perks include firming up the skin while reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Sarah Chapman Overnight Exfoliating Booster also accelerates cell renewal, giving you new skin and a new complexion.


Mandelic Acid (AHA)

Less commonly heard of, this one has antimicrobial properties, making it effective against both cystic and comedonal acne. It’s also on the other end of the scale when compared to glyconic acid, as its molecules are large, better for sensitive skin types. The Bakel Brightening Serum has a bunch of other acids like kojic, tartaric, and malic acid, which also helps to lighten and renew skin.


Gluconolactone / Lactobionic Acid (PHA)

These two are the only two PHAs, and work in the same way. It’s basically an AHA without skin irritation and redness, as the molecules are larger in size. However, its effects are no less than a regular AHA. Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads are a super no-mess option, and can either be left on or rinsed off.


Ascorbic Acid (AHA)

Don’t get too alarmed at this snazzy name, for it’s actually just vitamin C. It’s a great antioxidant, reduces fine lines, and fades dark spots too. It also firms and brightens, which is no wonder why it’s a popular choice for many anti-aging skincare products. DCL C Scape High Potency Night Booster also promotes moisture, which helps in the absorption of the ascorbic acid.

What to Read Next: Your Neck Deserves More Than Just Your Leftovers, Splash Masks: What Are They & Do You Need Them and We May Have Found The Perfect Skin Tint To Take On-The-Go Main Image: Natalyn Chan

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