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A guide to acids in skincare (and how to use them properly)

Whilst the idea of acids in your beauty routine may sounds downright horrifying, any skincare lover will tell you that using the right acids (in the right way) can work miracles on your skin. Here’s how.

Buying skincare products is like heading into chemistry class – acids of all sorts line the shelves, each one seemingly more dangerous than the next. But when used properly, they are among the best tools for fighting fine lines, pigmentation, acne scarring and other conditions. We take you through the most common types and how to use them.

[Hero and Featured Image Credit: Drunk Elephant via Facebook]

acids in skincare drunk elephant
Image Credit: Drunk Elephant

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha- hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s derived from sugar cane. One of the most widely used AHAs, it’s most commonly employed as a chemical exfoliant in cleansers, toners and peels, often partnered with salicylic acid, another common substance used to exfoliate the skin and clear acne scars. Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C Framboos Glycolic Night Serum is one of the brand’s best-sellers and gentle enough to be used nightly. Remember to lather on the sunscreen in the morning though, as its use can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sun.


Gluconolactone is a poly-hydroxy acid (PHA), which are perhaps less well-known than AHAs or beta-hydroxy ones (BHAs). Nonetheless, it’s still an effective skincare ingredient and as it’s gentler than other acids it’s a great choice for those with sensitive skin. Wildsmith’s Dual-Action Exfoliating Treatment contains this PHA, which penetrates the skin slowly and gently to aid the removal of dead skin cells while providing deep hydration.

acids in skincare caudalie
Image Credit: Caudalie

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is absolutely an essential for dry skin types. Its powerful anti-ageing properties work for every skin type and it can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, helping lock moisture in the skin to keep it hydrated and soft. Hyaluronic acid also has the ability to protect the skin from environmental damage and block out the sun’s UVB rays. French favourite Caudalíe’s Vinsource-Hydra SOS Thirst-Quenching Serum is a great choice, as is local clean-beauty brand Skin Need’s 100 percent Hyaluronic Acid + B5 Serum, with the added benefit of anti- inflammatory properties found in the pro-vitamin.

Ferulic acid

Ferulic acid is an ingredient that’s mostly used in conjunction with vitamins C and E in serums, and has antioxidant properties. Pixi’s Vitamin-C Remedy Mask helps brighten and tone the skin with its energising and hydrating blend of citrus, green tea, ferric acid and ginseng. When used with Vitamins C and E, it can also protect the skin from free radicals. It is a great product for more mature skin and for pigmentation problems.

Image Credit: Augustinus Bader

Lactic acid

Lactic acid is the second-best- researched AHA after glycolic acid and is a great option, again for sensitive skin. Teresa Tarmey’s Lactic Acid Treatment, is a light exfoliating peel that leaves the skin more radiant. Because it’s more gentle, it’s suitable for all skin types.

Phytic acid

Phytic acid is a milder AHA that can effectively help to improve skin tone when used alongside a glycolic acid. Made from plant extracts, it is more nourishing on the skin and is one of the ingredients in Augustinus Bader’s Essence (along with salicylic, gluconolacctone and hyaluronic acid) to mildly exfoliate surface skin cells and improve the skin’s ability to retain moisture.

This article first appeared on Prestige Online Hong Kong.

A guide to acids in skincare (and how to use them properly)

Stephanie Ip

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