6 Acids To Look For in Your Skin Care Products

Woman browsing through skincare products

Many people equate the term “acid” with harsh chemicals that damage the skin, but this is definitely not true!

There are so many acids out there that not only come from natural sources, but also bring the skin numerous benefits.

From the hydrating properties of hyaluronic acid to the exfoliating properties of alpha hydroxy acids, here are six acids to look for when seeking out new skin care products.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is found throughout the human body, with your skin cells actually producing it themselves in order to stay hydrated. 

This acid is a powerful humectant, which means that it is able to draw in moisture from the air and hold on to it, basically acting like a magnet for moisture. In fact, hyaluronic acid is capable of holding up to 1000 times its weight in water. It is also able to adjust this depending on humidity, which can change with the seasons. 

This unique property makes hyaluronic acid a fantastic ingredient for hydrating the skin. Research shows that applying hyaluronic acid to the skin is directly linked to an increase in skin moisture and smoothness, as well as a decrease in the visibility of wrinkles.

In addition to this, hyaluronic acid also has antioxidant properties, meaning that it can help to protect the body from free radical damage, which is caused by everything from pollution to sun exposure.

You are probably thinking…

If the body already produces hyaluronic acid, why does it need to be applied topically?

Well, while your body produces plenty of hyaluronic acid during your younger years, this changes as you age…

The older you get, the less hyaluronic acid your body will produce, which is partly why mature skin is so prone to dryness and wrinkles. Not only that, but the rate at which the hyaluronic acid already in your body degrades speeds up as you grow older

Illustration of different layers of skin

Fortunately, applying hyaluronic acid topically is an easy way to get around this.

Wondering if hyaluronic acid is safe to be used by all skin types?

Yes. Since your body already has plenty of hyaluronic acid within it, this gentle ingredient is easily accepted by the skin, and will not cause any irritations.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha hydroxy acids, also referred to as AHAs, are water-soluble acids most commonly used for their exfoliating properties

When applied to the skin, AHAs dissolve away the outermost layer of dead skin cells, leaving your newer and fresher skin cells to shine through. When used over time, AHAs can really help to keep the skin better hydrated, while increasing smoothness and firmness.

AHAs have a few other benefits too, most notably when it comes to increasing collagen production, evening out the skin tone and thickening the epidermis.

Never seen the term alpha hydroxy acid on your skin care labels before?

This is because there are actually quite a few AHAs out there, and these will be listed with their individual names on ingredient lists.

Here are some of the most popular AHAs:

  • Glycolic Acid – one of the most popular, as well as the most researched, of AHAs, glycolic acid, which comes from sugar cane, not only exfoliates and hydrates the skin, but also “teaches” the skin how to better hydrate itself. In addition to this, research shows that glycolic acid, when used at a concentration of 5%, can improve the skin’s firmness and elasticity, while reducing signs of sun damage
  • Lactic Acid – derived from milk, lactic acid works in a similar way to glycolic acid. However, its molecules are larger, meaning that it does not penetrate into the skin to such an extent, making it ideal for those who have sensitive skin
  • Citric Acid – comes from citrus fruits and boasts antioxidant as well as exfoliating properties. However, due to its low pH level, citric acid can often end up irritating the skin
  • Malic Acid – derived from apples, malic acid is best used with other AHAs in order for it to be effective, since it has quite large molecules and cannot properly penetrate into the skin
  • Tartaric Acid – many plants produce tartaric acid, including bananas and grapes, with this AHA featuring quite a large molecule size, meaning that it is best combined with other AHAs. However, the pH level of tartaric acid is great for the skin, and it can help the skin to better receive the benefits of other AHAs 

While each of those AHAs can be derived from natural sources, the majority of skin care products will contain synthetic versions of these acids.

Why not just use them in a natural form?

Because the synthetic versions are much easier to stabilize and formulate into long-lasting products. You are also guaranteed more consistent results with a synthetic ingredient over a natural ingredient.

Beta Hydroxy Acids

While beta hydroxy acids, also known as BHAs, also exfoliate the skin, they differ from AHAs in a few different ways…

Unlike AHAs, BHAs are oil-soluble, meaning that they are able to penetrate through the skin’s oil glands and exfoliate them too.

For that reason, BHAs are best suited to those with oily skin, as a BHA will be able to clear out and unclog the pores, clearing away excess oils.

In addition to this, BHAs also have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties, which is why they are such an effective treatment when dealing with acne

The most popular and commonly used BHA out there is salicylic acid. This acid comes from the bark of the willow tree, and is extremely effective at clearing out the pores. Not only that, but salicylic acid also helps to maintain the skin’s pH level, boost collagen production, and increase the rate at which the skin absorbs other ingredients.

The downside?

It can be quite drying on the skin, making it important to moisturize after use.

If you would like to enjoy the benefits of salicylic acid, but would like the ingredient in a more natural form, give willow bark extract a try.

As mentioned above, salicylic acid comes from willow bark. While the extract may not be as potent as salicylic acid itself, it still has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Vine Vera 6 Acids To Look For in Your Skin Care Products willow bark

Alpha Lipoic Acid

Also referred to as ALA, alpha lipoic acid is an enzyme that is naturally found in every cell in the body, helping each cell with energy production.

When it comes to skin care, ALA acts as an antioxidant, but brings with it some unique benefits:

  • Repairs damaged cells – it first tackles the free radicals in the cell membrane, before moving in to neutralize the free radicals within, while also preventing pro-inflammatory chemicals from activating
  • Antioxidant regeneration – ALA helps the body to produce more antioxidants itself
  • Anti-inflammatory properties – reduces redness, calming the skin and evening out the skin tone
  • Regulates the production of nitric oxide – this then boosts blood flow to the skin, which not only gives the skin a natural, vibrant glow, but also helps to reduce the appearance of dark circles

ALA is an extremely potent ingredient, and can be quite sensitive to sunlight. For this reason, keep your ALA usage to night times rather than during the day, and make sure that the product containing it features dark and opaque packaging to reduce the product’s light exposure.

Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid refers to vitamin C, which does so much when it comes to the skin.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and in addition to being able to neutralize free radicals, just like all other antioxidants, vitamin C has some other fantastic skin-boosting benefits as well.

Vitamin C plays a significant role when it comes to the production of collagen and elastin. These are both structural proteins that give your skin its firmness and elasticity. While your body produces these naturally, the rate at which it does so declines with age, making it important to speed this back up if you want to maintain a smooth and tight complexion.

Vitamin C is also able to protect the skin from UV-induced damage.

Did you know that the amount of vitamin C in your skin decreases when your skin is exposed to UV light?

By boosting this back up, you will be giving your skin an extra form of protection against the sun.

And no, vitamin C cannot replace your sunscreen, but it is a fantastic ingredient to use alongside a sunscreen.

If all of that was not enough…

Vitamin C is also able to help with dry skin.

Illustration of normal skin versus dry skin


By increasing the rate at which barrier lipids are formed. These are the compounds that make up your skin’s natural protective barrier, and prevent the moisture in your skin from evaporating into the air.

By strengthening this barrier, your skin will be able to retain moisture much more effectively, resulting in a softer and smoother complexion.

Finally, vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties. This is why it is a popular ingredient when it comes to tackling acne

When looking for vitamin C in skin care products…

Keep in mind that there are multiple derivatives of the vitamin available, meaning that you may find any of the following listed on an ingredients list:

  • L-Ascorbic Acid – the purest form of vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid brings you all of the above-mentioned benefits, but can be quite irritating to the skin due to its potency
  • Ascorbyl Palmitate – more stable and gentle than L-ascorbic acid, but does not penetrate the skin to the same extent
  • Magnesium Ascorbyl Palmitate – boosts collagen production just as effectively as L-ascorbic acid, but without any of the irritating side effects

Retinoic Acid

Also known as tretinoin, retinoic acid is a form of vitamin A.

When it comes to skin care, you have likely heard of vitamin A being mentioned quite a few times before…

This is because this is one of the only ingredients out there that has been clinically proven to help reduce the visible signs of aging, from fine lines and wrinkles to dark spots and sagging skin.

How does it do this?

By boosting collagen production, speeding up cell turnover and unclogging pores, meaning that it can even make a huge difference when it comes to treating acne.

How long does it take for these effects to become apparent?

It can happen in as little as four weeks.

Unfortunately, many people tend to stop using retinoic acid in under two weeks…


Because this ingredient does cause a few side effects, such as redness and peeling. It is important to fight through this, because your skin will end up growing more tolerant of the ingredient after a couple of weeks.

To help your skin adjust, make sure that you start off with the lowest dose, slowly working your way up to the recommended amount. It is also advisable that you do not use retinoic acid every day. Instead, start with twice a week, and, again, build this up slowly over time

Just like with vitamin C, there are several vitamin A derivatives out there, from retinol to retinyl palmitate.

However, before your body can actually put those derivatives to work, it has to first convert them into retinoic acid.

By using retinoic acid itself on your skin, no conversions are needed, meaning that the ingredient can get to work much quicker and more effectively.

The downside?

Due to its potency, retinoic acid, unlike many of the other vitamin A derivatives, is only available through a prescription, so you will need to speak to your doctor or dermatologist if you want to start incorporating this ingredient into your skin care routine.

As you can see from the above list, the term “acid” does not need to frighten you…

There are so many skin-boosting acids out there that can really help to improve the health and appearance of your complexion, so don’t be afraid to expand your skin care regimen to include more of them.

Post your comment


  1. Posted by Lanie Kay, at Reply

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    I love eye products. At almost 68 years of age, I am constantly fighting the fine lines around my eyes.

  25. Posted by Gabrielle, at Reply

    I really appreciate the info on ascorbic acid and will be looking into adding it into my skincare regimen.

  26. Posted by Debbie Edgar, at Reply

    Learn something I didn’t know

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    i really didn’t know how the acids helped. This really breaks it down great!

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  67. Posted by Jack Riddle, at Reply


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  81. Posted by a rose, at Reply


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  120. Posted by Buddy Garrett, at Reply

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  125. Posted by Kristen H., at Reply

    Thanks for letting people who read this article know what types of acids to look for in skincare products depending on what they would like the skincare products they purchase to do for their skin. I found it to be very helpful and will definitely come back to it in the future if I am in the market for skincare products.