Skin Care Acids: Every Type of Skincare Acid Explained

Skin Care Acids: Every Type of Skincare Acid Explained

The world of skincare products is ever-growing and confusing. It happens to all of us – we get lost trying to find one product and end up examining a completely different one just because it looks interesting.

It's definitely tempting to try out every single product on the market, but it's not always the best idea, especially if you have acne-prone skin. Your skin doesn't like to be experimented on very much, so switching your products every week is harmful to your budget and your face!

That's why it's important to be knowledgeable about how different products affect your skin type even before you buy them. We get it - it's unrealistic to know how every single product functions and what it does for your skin. But if you're looking for something specific, start from there.

This brings us to today's subject: skincare acids. No, acids aren't reserved for chemistry class; they're actually something your skin can benefit from greatly.

Different acids have specific functions and unique benefits that come along with them. Let's explore all the different face acids available so you can decide whether you need them in your skincare routine.

Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

You've probably come across vitamin C as an ingredient in some cosmetic products. In fact, it's one of the most commonly found ingredients for skin brightening and anti-aging benefits.

Ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C, and it might actually be superior to the others. Why, you ask? Ascorbic acid contains a large number of antioxidants that help the skin look refreshed, firm and healthy. So ascorbic acid will not only penetrate skin to smooth fine lines and wrinkles, but it can also improve saggy skin.

If you add this antioxidant powerhouse to your skincare routine, you'll likely notice improvements within weeks. In addition to brightening the skin tone, vitamin C is amazing for helping uneven skin tone. It helps with hyperpigmentation and acne scars.

But there's more! It seems like the list of benefits of ascorbic acid is endless! It will also protect your skin from external stressors and environmental pollutants. If you live in an area with high pollution, this benefit is probably very appealing.

If you want to optimize the benefits of this acid, combine it with another antioxidant or simply purchase a product that contains other skin-beneficial ingredients alongside ascorbic acid. Each product varies in terms of how high the concentration of vitamin C is. Research shows that both high and low concentrations of vitamin C has the potential to help the skin repair itself.

It's important to note that vitamin C doesn't agree with every other ingredient out there. For instance, it shouldn't be combined with niacinamide (a vitamin B3 derivative) because this can cause negative effects on the skin.

Azelaic Acid

This strange-sounding acid comes with many benefits for the skin.

Azelaic acid belongs to the dicarboxylic acids group, which means it has an incredible exfoliating function. On top of that, it aids the process of unblocking pores and improves skin texture, helping you achieve the smooth texture you've been looking for.

Just like vitamin C derivatives, azelaic acid also contains a myriad of antioxidants that do all sorts of wonders for the skin.

You might be wondering where this azelaic acid comes from. Although it's typically derived from rye, barley, and wheat, this acid is usually made in the lab, but that doesn't make it any less helpful.

This study also suggests it's great for treating melasma.

If you consider purchasing this acid, we must warn you it's not always easy to find. The reason behind its unavailability is that it's quite hard to make, so the amount of acid produced is sparse. Regarding the best concentration for topical application, dermatologists have a consensus that a 10% solution or less has the best benefits.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHAs)

This substance is among the most commonly used skincare acids. It's one of the most useful for many types of skin issues.

AHAs (otherwise known as alpha hydroxy acids) are used in many skincare products, such as toners, creams, moisturizers, masks, and cleansers, including Misumi's AHA 10% Skin Perfecting Cleanser.

There are seven types of AHAs acids:

  • Lactic acid (lactose)
  • Glycolic acid (sugar cane)
  • Citric acid (citrus fruits)
  • Hydroxycaproic acid
  • Malic acid (fruit-derived)
  • Tartaric acid (grapes)
  • Mandelic acid

All of the abovementioned types of AHAs carry unique benefits which come with regular application. When it comes to which ones are tested out and researched the most, lactic acid and glycolic acid take the cake.

Lactic acid is a moisturizing exfoliant and is perfect if you're looking for something gentler for your skin care routine. Lactic acid is good for all skin types and is mostly used on the body. Glycolic acid, however, is found in mask treatments, serums, and cleansers. It's great for hyperpigmentation, so if you have dark spots, try out glycolic acid over lactic acid. Mandelic acid is made from bitter almonds and is much gentler on the human body than other skin care options. It can also help with excess sebum production.

To anyone familiar with skincare, it's no secret that alpha hydroxy acids have many benefits for our skin - especially acne-prone skin. For starters, they help prevent breakouts and scarring. They not only work as a preventative measure but also help heal existing acne, marks and dark spots, and scarring.

In terms of anti-aging, they will help you achieve a youthful glow. This is because they stimulate collagen production and blood flow to the face, similar to exercise. The amount of collagen our skin produces decreases as we age, so it's very important to start using anti-aging products in our twenties to prevent premature signs of skin aging. But they don't only prevent fine lines and wrinkles; they help to smooth out any existing ones!

Moreover, AHAs can remove the outer layer of the skin. This will brighten the complexion and help the skin shed off dead skin cells, promoting skin cell turnover. This makes them an amazing option when you need thorough exfoliation. A saturation of dead skin cells makes our complexion look dull and unhealthy. Not to mention - it clogs pores and leads to potential breakouts.

Salicylic Acid (BHA)

Now that we've explained exactly what AHAs are, let's move on to their strongest competitor: BHAs - otherwise known as beta hydroxy acids.

BHAs have an amazing exfoliating ability. They're perfect for those with oily skin, acne, or blackheads. Exfoliators usually shed off the first, topmost layer of skin to reveal new skin underneath.

BHAs can also delve deeper into the pores and remove congestion. By doing so, we can conclude that they not only treat existing acne but also have a preventative function.

Salicylic acid is the most popular BHA product and is used as an integral part of many skin care products.

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, and it's derived from plant sources. You might have noticed your favorite skincare product contains salicylic acid. This is no coincidence since salicylic acid has been proven to help with most skin issues, such as acne, whiteheads, blackheads, blocked pores, sun damage and dark spots, and inflammation.

One of the many benefits of using salicylic acid on the skin is its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation usually entails pigmentation, redness, and acne. Salicylic acid can help with all of those problems. The best thing is it has an almost immediate effect, decreasing the size of the pimple and the redness surrounding it.

As far as the ideal concentration of salicylic acid is concerned, it's best to go for 0.5 to 5 percent. The number you choose will depend on your skin sensitivity and how much you want to get out of the product. For a more intense exfoliation and peeling, it's recommended to go higher. However, make sure to consult your doctor for the best advice.

If you don't want to go straight to a peel, try out this acid's benefits with Misumi's Clear Skin Salicylic Cleanser.

What’s the Difference Between BHAs and AHAs?

The difference between these two distinguished acids is that AHAs are water-soluble, while beta hydroxy acids are oil-soluble. While both have incredible exfoliating properties, BHAs can penetrate deeper into the skin and provide better cleansing and skin rejuvenation.

Can I Use BHAs and AHAs at the Same Time?

The good news is that you can, but we recommend some space between the applications.

For instance, if you use BHAs in the morning, try using AHAs at night or even switch them out week by week. Some skincare products already contain both of these ingredients, which will save you the trouble of picking two different ones and alternating between them.

If you layer BHAs and AHAs on top of each other, you risk some side effects, such as redness and dry skin. To avoid this (or any other unwanted outcome), follow the alternating days/weeks method. You could also use them on different parts of your face simultaneously, assuming that you want different results from both of them.

PHAs (Polyhydroxy Acids)

PHAs or polyhydroxy acids are very similar to AHAs. They are chemical exfoliants that contain beneficial properties for the skin.

Although there are several types of PHAs, the most commonly found ones are galactose, lactobinoic acid, and gluconolactone.

Similarly to BHAs and AHAs, poly hydroxy acids do an amazing job of exfoliating the skin and removing dead skin cells, which can lead to clogged pores. Regular exfoliation removes the outer layers of the skin and helps keep it healthy all year round. Even if you don't suffer from any skin issues, we recommend you use one of these to maintain a smooth and glowing texture.

PHAs contain a myriad of antioxidant properties that help fight free radical damage, one of the most common disease-causing issues.

In terms of structure, PHAs are slightly softer on the skin and don't penetrate as deeply as BHAs do. There is a slight difference in their structure regarding their molecules. PHA molecules are bigger than the others, which is one of the reasons why they don't go so deep into the skin.

And now, for the question on everyone's lips: can you use BHAs, AHAs, and PHAs simultaneously? Believe it or not, it can be done, and some cosmetic companies do it on a regular basis.

There are a few things you should keep in mind, though. Firstly, don't use all three in a short period - for example, a day.

Is your skin sensitive? If you have sensitive skin, it might not be the best idea to use all three. Overusing any of them, no matter what your skin type is, can lead to redness, itchiness, dry patches, and irritation. These symptoms are not pleasant or easy to deal with, so it's best to play it safe.

Sensitive skin types should stick to PHAs since they're not as strong as BHAs and AHAs. A common PHA you can look out for is lactobionic acid.

Ferulic Acid

Ferulic acid is a phenolic antioxidant found in many plant sources such as bran, oranges, and apples. Needless to say, this antioxidant can help fight free radicals in the body.

Like other free radical fighting products, ferulic acid can help with signs of aging, giving your skin a youthful and healthy look. There's enough evidence to claim that ferulic acid can protect against environmental pollutants and other external damage.

It's found in many skincare products. Companies usually combine it with ingredients such as vitamin C and vitamin E.

Although it's safe for all skin types, if you have sensitive skin, use it cautiously. Do a patch test before including it in your regular skin care routine. A patch test is when you test a new product on one part of your face to see how your skin reacts.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is already naturally found in our skin. It's an incredible moisturizer and water retainer, leaving your skin hydrated and firm. Not only does hyaluronic acid moisturize the skin, but it also locks the moisture in, so you'll be left with hydrated skin for hours after application.

Due to its structure and the fact that it has a similar function to collagen and elastin, it can help fill out fine lines and wrinkles.

The amount of hyaluronic acid in our bodies decreases as we get older, so it's important to supplement it by using skincare products containing hyaluronic acid. It's never too early to start with an anti-aging skin routine, so choosing at least one product that contains this ingredient is a good place to start.

You could also try adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, as these contain a lot of antioxidants. These also protect your skin and body from inflammation, which is very useful if you suffer from any type of skin issue.

If you still have doubts as to whether you should choose hyaluronic or glycolic acid, you can read about it more in-depth here. According to this study, glycolic acid is great for hyperpigmentation and aging.

The good news is that hyaluronic acid can be paired with other harsher ingredients, like Retin A, and vitamins, as well as harsher skin treatments, such as chemical peels and microdermabrasion, so you don't have to worry too much about any potential cross-reactions.

However, as we've already mentioned, you should be careful about pairing it with other acids if you have sensitive skin.

Oleic Acid

If you have dry skin, then this one is for you.

Oleic acid is a wonderful moisturizer because it reaches deeper skin layers and provides better hydration. As we age, our skin becomes dryer, so this is a great option for people who want to keep their mature skin hydrated for years to come.

Like most acids, oleic acid contains many antioxidants that provide a wide range of benefits for our skin and bodies. Thanks to its rich and moisturizing texture, oleic acid can also help with certain health conditions like eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.

Oleic acid can help whether you have normal skin in need of some nutrients, dry skin, or aging skin.


Hopefully, you've found this comprehensive list of skincare acids useful for your next skincare shopping trip. Getting educated about what we put on our skin is the first step to choosing better products and getting better results.

From glycolic acid to citric acid, most people introduce acids to fight acne or help with any other skin concerns they might have. Acids exfoliate the skin, get rid of dead cells, help with UV radiation and sun damage, and more.

Remember that when it comes to skin health, it doesn't make much difference what you put on your skin if your inside isn't taken care of. Regular exercise, healthy sleeping patterns, and minimizing our stress levels are just as important as the products we use topically, if not more!


Adult female acne: a guide to clinical practice

Hyperpigmentation Therapy: A Review

Natural ingredients for darker skin types

The effect of physically applied alpha hydroxyl acids on the skin pore and comedone

The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health

Skin protective effects of an antipollution, antioxidant serum containing Deschampsia antartica extract, ferulic acid and vitamin C

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