They may sound harsh (and conjure visions of psychedelia), but dropping acid is actually pretty great—for your skin. Whether your concern is aging, acne, or a generally dull complexion, there's an acid for that (burning sensation not included). We talked to Jamé Heskett, MD, founder of The Wellpath in New York City about these skin savers. Below, some of the best of the bunch.
This form of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is derived from plants or vegetables with high sugar contents, like beets and sugarcane, says Heskett. It's relatively gentle and "produces a mild peel effect, because it doesn't penetrate very deep into the skin," she adds. "It's best for a quick and easy exfoliation."
Heskett's favorite: Epicuren Glycolic Lotion Face Peel 10% ($47, amazon.com). She suggests using it 1 to 3 times per week in place of a physical scrub.
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Instead of resurfacing like other other acids, hyaluronic is a hero when it comes to moisturizing. "It's a natural humectant with the ability to draw in and hold water," says Heskett. "It [pulls] moisture into the skin, giving it a plumped up look."
Heskett's favorite: Vine Vera Malbec DNA Biology Mask ($1500, vinevera.com). For hydration that won't cost you a month's rent, though, try the complexion-quenching VÍZ-1000 Hydrating Serum from Peter Thomas Roth ($65, nordstrom.com).
Another AHA, lactic acid is generated from the fermentation of milk, says Heskett. Like glycolic, it comes in various strengths and is best for gently sloughing off the first layer of the epidermis, leaving skin smoother and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Heskett's favorite: An at-home mask made from organic oatmeal and plain organic yogurt. "The combination of the acid plus the scrub of the oatmeal returns the face to a slightly acidic 5 pH-level," she says, calling that the "sweet spot" for balanced skin. Not in the mood for a DIY remedy? Use Sunday Riley's Good Genes Treatment ($105, sephora.com), which contains 40% lactic acid.
If you've never used salicylic acid, thank the skin gods immediately for the introduction. It's a staple in any acne-fighting routine. "Salicylic acid has the ability to exfoliate, neutralize the bacteria that causes breakouts, and reduce overall inflammation" says Heskett. Use it in your face wash, your spot treatment, or mixed into your concealer for simultaneous healing and coverage.
Heskett's favorite: Miracle Skin Transformer Acne Control Tinted Treatment Lotion ($48, nordstrom.com), which comes in five gorgeous shades.