Using acids in your skincare routine


The world of skincare can be really confusing. There are so many products out there claiming to cure all of our skin troubles. The latest trend in skincare is the use of acids, such as hyaluronic acid and salicylic acid.
You may have heard about these ingredients already and wondered what their benefits are and whether they’d help you. We’ve all got different needs when it comes to our skin, so how do we know if a certain product is right for us?
In this guide, we’ll explore the different types of popular skincare acids and how to choose the best one for your skin type.

Are acids actually good for skin?

The word ‘acid’ usually comes with a whole bunch of negative connotations, so you might be wondering how it could possibly be a beneficial addition to your skincare routine. You’d be right in thinking that some acids should never go anywhere near your face, due to the risk of chemical burns.
Some acids, however, really can work wonders for your skin when they’re used at the right concentrations. You’ll still need to read the directions carefully and protect your skin from the sun using SPF, but face acids are completely safe and can fight a range of skincare concerns, including wrinkles and acne.

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is one of the trendiest ingredients on the skincare market right now. Did you know that your skin naturally contains hyaluronic acid already?
It’s actually a sugar that’s naturally produced by our skin cells in an attempt to maintain good moisture levels. The acid acts as a magnet for moisture: a single gram of hyaluronic acid has the ability to hold up to six litres of water.
Hyaluronic acid reduces over time, so the younger your skin, the more of it your skin cells will naturally produce. That’s why when your skin is ageing, it finds it harder to replenish moisture.

What are the benefits of hyaluronic acid?

Using hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine can increase the amount of moisture that your skin can retain. Keeping your skin hydrated with hyaluronic acid comes with a range of benefits:

  • Your skin will be well moisturised, appearing plump and radiant
  • Fine lines and wrinkles can be reduced in appearance
  • Hyaluronic acid has been shown to reduce the appearance of scars and wounds
  • Antioxidant properties in hyaluronic acid can shield your face against pollution


What skin type is hyaluronic acid good for?

Hyaluronic acid can be beneficial for all skin types by preventing your skin from becoming dehydrated.

For oily skin:

Some people with oily skin believe they shouldn’t use hydrating products because their skin isn’t dry – this is incorrect. If your skin is oily, it may actually be overproducing oil to compensate for dehydration.
Hyaluronic acid is fairly lightweight, meaning it won’t clog your pores or leave your skin feeling greasy – a great option for hydration if you’ve got oily skin.

For dry skin:

Whilst hyaluronic acid can hydrate your skin by drawing moisture from the air around you, it can also draw moisture from the deeper levels of your skin, especially if you live somewhere where the air is dry.
That’s why hyaluronic acid should be used in conjunction with a moisturiser, particularly if you’ve got dry skin. It’s also important to apply hyaluronic acid to damp or wet skin, so the molecule can absorb the added water and provide extra hydration, instead of drawing any moisture from your skin.


Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid (SA), originally derived from the bark of plants such as willow, has long been used as a treatment for many skin concerns.
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that can help to gently exfoliate your skin by stimulating cell turnover and dissolving the sticky bonds between dead skin cells. This ingredient can penetrate deep into your pores, unclogging them and therefore preventing blemishes.

What are the benefits of salicylic acid?

As a highly effective chemical exfoliator, salicylic acid has a range of benefits for your skin, including the ability to:

  • Fight acne
  • Remove dead skin cells
  • Decrease oil secretion
  • Reduce inflammation and redness


What skin type is salicylic acid good for?

Salicylic acid is a fantastic treatment for those with oily or acne-prone skin; using it can treat and prevent blackheads. Most salicylic acid products on the market contain 1-5% concentration and are used to gently exfoliate the skin and treat breakouts.
At higher concentrations, salicylic acid can be prescribed to treat cystic acne (the most severe type of acne, caused by cysts developing underneath your skin). Salicylic acid can dry out the skin, so it isn’t recommended for those with dry skin types without consulting a dermatologist first.
Because of this, it’s important to only use salicylic acid once or twice a week to start off with, and to make sure your skin is properly hydrated using a moisture-locking product like hyaluronic acid alongside it.
Salicylic acid’s exfoliating effects can also leave the skin more vulnerable to UV rays, so it’s extremely important that you use SPF for protection against the sun – even if it’s not sunny outside.

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is a popular alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that exfoliates the skin by encouraging cell turnover. It’s the smallest of the AHA molecules, meaning it can penetrate the skin more effectively than other AHAs. It’s usually found at concentrations of 10% or below.

What are the benefits of glycolic acid?

Similarly to salicylic acid, glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant with a range of benefits including:

  • Anti-ageing properties
  • Removes dead skin cells
  • Improves texture and acne scars
  • Decreases oil secretion


What skin type is glycolic acid good for?

Glycolic acid can be used by anyone – it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got oily, dry or combination skin. The difference between glycolic acid and salicylic acid is that the latter is an oil-soluble BHA, meaning it can penetrate deeper into your skin than glycolic acid and target acne more effectively.
Glycolic acid, however, can be used to treat acne scars, uneven texture, sun damaged or hyper-pigmented skin. As with salicylic acid, it’s extremely important that you use SPF alongside glycolic acid to protect your skin from sun damage.


Other acids suitable for dry skin:

Ascorbic acid: A variant of vitamin C that can even out your skin tone, help with flaky skin, and repair damage from pollution.
Lactic acid: A popular AHA and a gentler alternative to glycolic acid, this ingredient can gently exfoliate the skin and provide anti-aging benefits.
Oleic acid: A non-greasy moisturiser, suitable for people that suffer with dry skin that is also prone to acne.
Tartaric acid: An ideal acid for smoothing the texture of flaky skin and providing antioxidant properties.

Other acids suitable for oily or combination skin:

Azelaic acid: Known for its anti-inflammation properties, this acid can be beneficial for those who suffer with frequent breakouts.
Lactic acid: Also suitable for oily skin as well as dry skin, lactic acid can gently reduce oiliness and help to repair acne scars.
Malic acid: An ideal option for combination skin, this acid can gently exfoliate and add moisture back into the skin.

Using acids for normal skin

You might be reading through this guide and thinking – my skin isn’t oily or dry! If you’ve got normal skin that is neither dry nor oily, you’re safe to use any of the acids mentioned as part of your skincare routine, as long as you use them as directed.
If you’re looking for a gentle acid as part of a basic skincare routine for your normal skin, citric acid may be a good place to start.
This acid helps to balance skin complexion and remove dead skin cells, as well as providing antioxidant benefits.

So, what have we learnt about acids? We’ve learnt that there’s a huge variety to choose from for any skin type, whether that be dry, oily, combination or normal.
They’re completely safe as long as you use them responsibly and as directed – always do a patch test to make sure your skin doesn’t react badly. Don’t forget to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays when using acids as part of your skincare routine.
We’ve got a huge range of skincare products from the brands you know and love – you can browse our range here.

Faye Bonnell - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 September 2021
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