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Understanding Face Acids and Which One To Choose

When you hear the word ‘acid,’ you instantly think of bubbling test tubes and scary chemicals and acid burns. However, when the right acid is used in the right concentrations, then face acids can prove to be some of the most beneficial products or ingredients for your skincare routine. In fact, many have hailed face acids as being the miracle tools they needed to fight against wrinkles, acne, scarring, age spots, as well as uneven skin tone. However, with the availability of so many face acids on the market, choosing the correct option may seem overwhelming. This is why it is essential to understand face acids and which one to choose by being aware of how the products work and other facts associated with face acids.

Understands the Different Face Acids

Understands the Different Face Acids

Hyaluronic Acid – for Aging and Dull Skin

The secret behind some people’s dewy skin is usually because of hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is one of the most commonly used face acids, and it is a humectant, meaning that it helps keep the skin attract and retain moisture. Though hyaluronic acid is produced naturally in your body, it is not sufficient to provide your skin the extra glow it needs.

Furthermore, as we age, the amount of hyaluronic acid that is produced naturally by our body starts to decrease, leaving us with duller-looking skin. In such a case, products that contain hyaluronic acid can help boost the skin’s ability to absorb and retain water. This keeps your skin looking plump and well hydrated. This is why it is advisable that you try and incorporate hyaluronic acid serums into your skincare routine, especially in the nighttime. Try to use them three to four times a week. Hyaluronic acid serums are generally well tolerated by most types of skin, and chances of side effects are very rare.

It surprises many to know that hyaluronic acid is also used as fillers for treating wrinkles and fine lines.(1) (2)

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) – For Skin Brightening And Improving Texture

AHA are acids that are derived from plant and food sources such as milk, fruits, and sugar. There are many different types of AHA that can be used for skincare. These include:

  • Citric – derived from citrus fruits
  • Mandelic – derived from plants
  • Lactic acid – derived from milk
  • Glycolic acid – derived from sugar
  • Glycolic acid is the most commonly used AHA for skincare.
  • Due to the exfoliating properties of AHA, these face acids make for a wonderful option for improving some minor textural issues such as hyperpigmentation from UV exposure as well as for skin brightening.
  • AHAs are also water-soluble, so they are unable to penetrate the pores very deeply. This is why AHAs are best for dealing with surface skin issues.
  • Usually, AHAs are well tolerated by most of the types of skin, but some medical experts are of the opinion that people who have sensitive skin should be careful when using
  • AHAs since they can cause irritation to the skin.(3)

Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid – For Boosting Collagen, Brightening Skin And Providing Antioxidant Protection

Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is known to be a powerhouse of health benefits. It is a potent antioxidant that can be found in many exfoliants, serums, and moisturizers. Just like any other antioxidants, vitamin C helps protect your skin from free radical damage caused by environmental factors such as UV rays and pollution.

Vitamin C also prevents many of the signs of aging as it increases collagen synthesis in the body, thus brightening and evening out the skin tone.(4)

It is recommended that you use ascorbic acid in a serum form once in the morning before applying your moisturizer and sunscreen. Keep in mind that you should always apply your skincare products from the thinnest to the thickest.

Vitamin C products are usually well tolerated by all types of skin, and it is also known to give good results if you want to address hyperpigmentation issues.

If you want to use ascorbic acid products, then you need to watch out for the specific form of vitamin C you buy. Tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate is a stable form of ascorbic acid, and many experts consider this to be the most effective type of vitamin C that you should use for skincare. This form of vitamin C is fat-soluble, which is why it is able to penetrate more deeply into the pores than the water-soluble forms of vitamin C. This also stimulates collagen, but more research is still required for confirming this. It is also believed that due to the fact that THD ascorbate is stable, this type of formulation is likely to last longer than vitamin C in an active form.

Many companies using ascorbic acid (which is the active form of vitamin C) have to stabilize the structure in their products. Nevertheless, it is still recommended that you should watch out while storing and handling any product that has ascorbic acid in it by limiting exposure to light and air so that the product does not oxidize quickly.

Salicylic or Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) – For Unclogging Pores For Acne-Prone And Oily Skin

Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) bind to oil instead of water. One of the most common types of BHA used in skincare is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid works best when used as a deep exfoliator for your skin. Due to the fact that it is an oil-soluble acid, salicylic acid is able to effectively break through any accumulation of bacteria, dead skin cells, and oil that builds upon the pore lining and dissolves it. This helps unclog pores and also prevent future breakouts from happening.

BHAs also penetrate the skin deeper than AHAs, which is why they are especially useful for use on acne-prone or oily skin.

Salicylic acid is the best face acid for people who have acne-prone and oily skin. However, people who have sensitive skin should either use it with caution or avoid using it altogether since it can dry out the skin even more.

Unless you are using a retinoid product at night, it is best to apply salicylic acid in the evening. It is not recommended that you apply salicylic acid and retinoids together as this increases the possibility of experiencing skin irritation and dryness. If using salicylic acid in the daytime, then you need to make sure that you apply a sunscreen over it.

Retinoic Acid – For Boosting Collagen Production, Exfoliation, And Cell Turnover

Retinoic acid is a derivative of vitamin A that is effective in increasing collagen production and also stimulate cell turnover in the body. There are many over the counter cosmetic products such as CeraVe Skin Renewing Cream Serum that get converted to retinoic acid after applying them to the skin. Prescription products, though, such as Retin-A, already contain retinoic acid and no conversion is needed. However, this also makes prescription products stronger, more productive, harsher, and even more expensive.

According to dermatologists, retinoic acid is one of the best face acids you can use for preventing aging. It keeps your skin looking youthful and directly boosts collagen in the body.

Regardless of which type of retinoids you use, these products can cause irritation to your skin. This is why it is best to slowly increase the strength of your product. Apply the product at night and preferably begin with a lower concentration that can be found in OTC retinol.


Before starting a skincare routine with face acids, you should research a little to find out how it can affect your skin. Avoid combining products as that is likely going to cause irritation to your skin. It is recommended that you use any face acid products at night itself as that is the time when your skin cells are repairing and not exposed to sunlight or other environmental pollutants. If you are wearing face acids in the daytime, then you need to make sure that you put sunscreen over it.

There is no one face acid that fits all types of skin, so it is best to discuss with a dermatologist to understand which face acid will be the best fit for you.


  1. Gold, M.H., 2007. Use of hyaluronic acid fillers for the treatment of the aging face. Clinical interventions in aging, 2(3), p.369.
  2. Andre, P., 2008. New trends in face rejuvenation by hyaluronic acid injections. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 7(4), pp.251-258.
  3. Tung, R.C., Bergfeld, W.F., Vidimos, A.T. and Remzi, B.K., 2000. α-Hydroxy acid-based cosmetic procedures. American journal of clinical dermatology, 1(2), pp.81-88.
  4. Cruel, J. (2019). Why Vitamin C Is a Dermatologist Favorite to Get Glowy Skin. [online] SELF. Available at: https://www.self.com/gallery/vitamin-c-for-skin [Accessed 21 Jul. 2019].
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 16, 2019

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