Acids Are Your
Answer to Common Skin Issues

Skin care acid guide
Skin care acid guide

Acids Are
Your Answer to Common Skin Issues

Which skin care acids are good for what? Let this primer help you get clear, healthy skin.

If you're having concerns with your skin, about acne or dryness or the damage from aging—meaning, if you're essentially a human who wants to look good—then you want to add some acid to your grooming regimen. Acids are seemingly everywhere in skin care these days. And for good reason. They work by helping you get new, healthy skin quicker through a process dermatologists call "turnover." After all, fresh new skin will always be better than old, dead skin, right? But acids can be intimidating. Especially when so many of us associate the stuff with bubbling chemical burns. But in reality, these highly effective acids are safe but you should know how to use them. To help you target your concern, we've outlined the most popular acids below, along the with recommended products to try.


Breakouts and
clogged pores

The Acid: Salicylic Acid

The Acid: Salicylic Acid

A man's skin has more active oil glands (and thus larger pores) than a woman's, so breakouts, blackheads and other blockages can happen more frequently. Salicylic acid is good at penetrating deep into the pores and loosening dead skin cells that would otherwise clog pores. A face wash with salicylic acid will help dissolve dead skin, while drying out excess oil and minimizing the appearance of large pores. When you have a zit, its anti-inflammatory properties (especially when combined with bacteria-killing tea tree oil and calming rosemary) will help shrink and heal it fast.

Exuviance Clarifying Facial Cleanser

Clarifying facial cleanser,
$36 / $24.62 by Exuviance

Versed Nix It Spot Treatment

Nix It spot treatment,
$12.99 by Versed

Dry skin

The Acid: Hyaluronic Acid

The Acid: Hyaluronic Acid

Unlike the other acids that dissolve dead skin, hyaluronic acid is a natural humectant found in the human body that cushions and lubricates skin. We're born with a high amount of hyaluronic acid and the amount in our bodies continues to decrease as we age. Able to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, it hydrates and plumps skin by pulling water into the skin from the atmosphere. It's an effective way to moisturize your skin without glopping on a lot of heavy lotions. In fact, one of the best isn't a cream at all, it's a lightweight gel. And because it's so good at plumping fine lines, hyaluronic acid is ideal for eye creams.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel

Hydro Boost water gel,
$18.98 / $14.42 by Neutrogena

Mario Badescu Hyaluronic Eye Cream

Hyaluronic eye cream,
$18 by Mario Badescu


Dull, sallow complexion

The Acid: Glycolic Acid

The Acid: Glycolic Acid

By far, the most popular alpha hydroxy acid, it's most recommended by dermatologists because it's so well-received and shows the quickest results. This is because it's the smallest acid in size, meaning the molecules can get deep into the skin. Derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid is very effective in breaking down skin cells and removing dead particles. The removal of waste and dead skin naturally boosts collagen and elastin production, resulting in smoother skin texture and a brighter complexion. Look for a glycolic toner, which is applied to the skin right after cleansing, allowing it to sink in and get to work.

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toning Solution

Glycolic acid toning solution,
$8.70 by The Ordinary

Anthony Glycolic Exfoliating and Resurfacing Wipes

Glycolic exfoliating and resurfacing wipes, $18 / $15.30 by Anthony

Redness, inflammation and acne scarring

The Acid: Lactic Acid

The Acid: Lactic Acid

Another alpha hydroxy acid, this is essentially a milder version of glycolic that's the rare acid that's actually a moisturizing exfoliant. A naturally occurring acid—in fact, it's the same molecule responsible for the burn you feel in your muscles—it helps speed up cell renewal and turnover. Because it's so mild, dermatologists recommend it to those with sensitive skin or irritation from acne who want to smooth out rough texture or even out skin-tone. Try a gentle exfoliating cleanser like this one designed to "quell redness and blemishes" or a toner that blends lactic acid with aloe to further calm skin.

Aesop Purifying Facial Exfoliant Paste

Purifying facial exfoliant paste,
$53 by Aesop

PCA Skin Smoothing Toner

Smoothing toner,
$40 by PCA Skin

A note on results:

A note
on results:

Acids will noticeably smooth and even out your skin. You'll begin to notice the texture improve and pigmentation like freckling lessen—over time. You shouldn't feel anything and the results aren't immediate. It takes regular use and a maybe a week or two to see improvement. Skin care pros warn that more product doesn't make it work faster. And you'll notice when you've overused acids because the skin will become irritated, itchy and red. If this happens, take a break for a few days to let your skin reset.

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