Backing Up Acids: The Main Types and Why You Need Them

Backing Up Acids: The Main Types and Why You Need Them
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You've got creams and serums and cleansers galore sitting on your bathroom shelves, but what about acids? The word may scare you, but don't be frightened. Acids — in proper dosages — are good for your skin, and consistent, thoughtful usage can make for a clearer, brighter, more vibrant complexion. 

We’ll explain how each work, how to use them, and what products to find them in, below! 

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Glycolic Acid
Recognize this ingredient? This is an alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA. “This acid tends to be one of the weaker acids you can use for exfoliating,” says dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky. “You will find it over the counter for minor chemical peels, treating acne, and brightening your skin.”

Prystowsky explains that this type gently, and slowly, lightens hyperpigmentation and sunspots, treats acne, reduces fine lines, and brightens skin. It’s best for sensitive skin, oily skin, and congested skin. 

Try Mario Badescu Glycolic Gel ($25, Mario Badescu)

Lactic Acid
This is another type of AHA you may recognize on the back of your skin-care bottles.

“[Lactic acid] is also another weaker acid you can use for exfoliating,” says Prystowsky. “You will find it over the counter in buffered preparations, such as Am Lactin, for use as a moisturizer that also gets rid of dead skin.”

It’s ideal for dry and sensitive skin, she says, including those with rosacea, since it moisturizes and buffs away dead skin at the same time. It’s also good for mature skin or those wanting to combat fine lines.

Try Sunday Riley Good Genes ($105, Sephora). 

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Salicylic Acid
This is a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA. It’s often derived from willowbark, or is a synthetic, says Prystowsky. It’s found over the counter and is generally marketed in products that fight acne.

Those with very oily skin, congested skin, or acne, benefit most from salicylic acid, explains Prystowsky, who adds that salicylic acid is not recommended for mature skin or dry skin, unless you’re only spot treating.

This type of acid is generally found in very small concentrations, and you can find it in many of your favorite spot treatments. 

Try Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Redness Soothing Facial Cleanser ($7.50, Neutrogena). 

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Take Away Tips:

1. You may need to reconsider topical retinoids when using acids. “It is routinely advised to stop vitamin A drugs/chemicals at least a week before a peel or heavy exfoliation to avoid going too deeply into the skin with the acid,” notes Prystowsky. “The hazard of acids going too deeply into the skin is that there will be a longer recovery period, and increased risk of infection or scarring could occur.”

2. Watch your skin to see how it reacts to any new products, especially acids, and always consult a dermatologist with your concerns. 

3. “If you tend to have more sensitive skin, I suggest sticking with glycolic acid and lactic acid. If you know that you can handle more, try salicylic acid,” explains Prystowsky.

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