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For a luminous, smooth and even-toned complexion, exfoliating acids are a great addition to your beauty tool kit.
But to get the most out of these skin-care superheroes, it’s important to know how to use them correctly. Read on to learn about acids, and get ready to glow.
All about acids
Unlike scrubs, which are physical exfoliants that slough off dead skin cells with their grainy texture, acids are chemical exfoliants that do the job by breaking down the bonds between cells. Acids can be derived from a variety of sources, including fruits, sugar cane and milk, but they can also be produced synthetically.
Benefits of exfoliating acids
Chemical exfoliation comes with a host of advantages. Depending on the exfoliant you choose, you can expect a more radiant complexion, smoother skin, a more even tone and even a decrease in the appearance of acne scars or dark spots.
"Acid exfoliants should be used at night since they can increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun, and particularly the possibility of sunburns. You should also make sunscreen a regular part of your routine to protect your skin. To avoid over-exfoliation, we recommend rotating ingredients that promote skin renewal, such as retinoids or other exfoliating products, by using them on different days, ideally in the evening.”
— Rita Silva, director of science communications for The Ordinary.
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Types of exfoliating acids
The two main types of exfoliating acids you'll find are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs).
AHAs, such as glycolic acid, mandelic acid and lactic acid, are water-soluble and work on the surface of the skin, removing dead cells and tackling texture, fine lines, dullness and hyperpigmentation. Some AHAs, such as lactic acid, can even help hydrate the skin by attracting and retaining moisture. AHAs are suitable for all skin types, especially those with dry skin, but because some are more powerful than others, be sure to consider your skin’s sensitivities and needs before choosing a product.
BHAs like salicylic acid are oil- soluble and can penetrate deeper into the skin to target clogged pores and sebum buildup. Although all skin types, including sensitive skin, can benefit from beta-hydroxy acids, they are particularly helpful to those who have oily or blemish-prone skin because of their powerful anti0inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Similar to AHAs, poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs) like gluconolactone are water-soluble and work on the surface of the skin. These acids differ in that they have a larger molecule size and provide a gentler and more gradual exfoliation.
How to Use
Exfoliating acids can be found in a variety of product types, such as cleansers, toners, masks and moisturizers. To safely add a chemical exfoliant to your routine, try these tips:
- To be sure the formula is right for you, do a patch test on a small area of skin on the inside of your arm. Wait 24 hours to see how your skin reacts before applying the product to your face.
- Start with a product that contains a low concentration of the exfoliating acid and apply it only once or twice a week to reduce the risk of irritation. Gradually increase the frequency—and then the concentration—over time.
- Try a gentler acid, like mandelic acid, or even a PHA, then move to a more powerful one.
- To keep irritation at bay, avoid layering exfoliating acids or combining them with strong ingredients like retinol and vitamin C.
- Avoid using a physical and a chemical exfoliant on the same day.
- Don’t exceed a product’s recommended frequency of use or exposure time. If you’re unsure, consult with your doctor.
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