Skincare Acids Guide: how to, benefits and extra tips

Brief History

Cleopatra in goat milk. Lactic acid is vital ro stimulate skin hydration. At that time, contraindications or pH were unknown.

History tells us that before science brought light into this field, the beauty concept came with different practices throughout history. That was before terms like AHA, BHA, pH or contraindications exist.

For instance, Cleopatra used to bathe in milk to gain softer and hydrated skin, thanks to lactic acid (AHA). Meanwhile, the Romans and Greeks were using fermented grape juice and lemon extracts to clear up their skin.

Gypsies were reportedly the first group to use phenol for deep chemical peels.

French queens were using wine yeast (tartaric acid) as skin peeling to gain brighter skin.

Introduction for skincare acids guide

Skincare acids became such a popular thing nowadays. They are used for many skin concerns and yes, they can be used on most skin types. No matter if you use AHA or BHA you will only benefit if it’s the right one for your skin and if you consider the relevant precautions.

Firstly, how do you know the right one for you? Which concentration or pH? How often and what do you need to take into consideration when you decide to add acids to your skin regimen?

I like to call them DOMESTIC ACIDS – safe to buy and use at home without any guidance from physicians and skin professionals.

Let me tell you a myth about domestic acids: The higher percentage the more effective.

Only estheticians and skin professionals will use acids with higher concentrations and lower pH. The rest is marketing and skin irritation.

However, besides the marketing strategy that many companies use, you should take in consideration the fact that numerous cosmetic products appeared on the market with unfounded claims of performance.

If you want to keep it simple, think that the formulation is the key! Trust the science and researchers. They know what they are doing. Just make sure that the brand is trustworthy.

Lower concentrations are beneficial for sensitive skins and not only. There should be a balance between strength (exp. 15%) and pH (4) – the less the pH the more acidic and more aggressive it is. This means that with a 30% concentration, it may be formulated at a pH of 5-6 ( normal skin’s pH is 5.5) so you do the math.

Basically, what you see on the market, is pretty safe for self-usage. What is happening in the skin and aesthetic clinics is another story of mine.

Skincare acids guide. Benefits, how to use, advice

AHA: GLYCOLIC ACID (derived from sugar cane)

  • Suitable for: aging, resilient skin, normal-combination, oily.
  • Fast action due to small molecular size – could be aggressive for sensitive skins;
  • treats scarring, discoloration, signs of aging, and breakouts;
  • stimulates collagen production, hyaluronic acid, cell turnover (faster cell renewal)
  • CAUTION: it may cause redness, flaky skin, breakouts (purging), irritation, and photo-sensitivity;
    • Not recommended to be used every day unless your skin is strong or the product is mild.
    • Wear at least 30 SPF every morning, acids are resurfacing your skin so you better protect it!
    • Minimize another type of exfoliation – or mix and match;
    • If you notice redness or intense dehydration – you should stop using that product, and add a hydrating serum and a heavier night moisturizer.
    • start using it night-time;
    • you can use other acids on your skin as well, but not simultaneously unless it’s in the same product.
  • CONTRAINDICATIONS: severe acne (active), super-sensitive skin, rosacea, dermatitis, pregnancy & breastfeeding (high concentrations 2% and up), recent Botox/Fillers, a medication that may cause photo-sensitivity (Tetracycline, Accutane, etc.), treatments with tretinoins, skin burns and rashes, herpes simplex, allergies or intolerances, lip, and chin wax 24 hr. before and after.
Molecular size for AHA, pH, and concentration
BHA are not included
AHAs and their molecular weight – Source NCBI

AHA: LACTIC ACID (derived from milk)

  • Suitable for: normal-combination, aging, dry, dehydrated, oily, mild-sensitive;
  • stimulates hydration without irritating the skin;
  • great for fine lines, large pores, mild pigmentation, aging, rough aspect;
  • improves skin tone, brighter complexion, promotes cell renewal;
  • CAUTION: may cause skin irritation for those who are more sensitive (you can use something milder)
    • it should be your INTRODUCTORY ACID for your skin. Then, you can move to glycolic or combination;
    • you can use lactic acid even if you are lactose intolerant (is not the same thing – it doesn’t go in your digestive system);
    • it really helps your dehydration;
    • Use SPF;
  • CONTRAINDICATIONS: common sense stuff like inflamed acne, pustules, rosacea, dermatitis, irritation, medication, pregnancy (over 5%), lip and chin wax 24 hr. before and after.

AHA: MALIC (apples), TARTRIC (grapes), MANDELIC (almonds), KOJIC (mushrooms), CITRIC (lime/lemon), PHYTIC (grains, seeds, rice)

  • MANDELIC ACID: Mostly found with other acid combinations, it’s mild due to its bigger molecular weight which makes it fab for sensitive skins. It helps to reduce excess of melanin production.
  • MALIC ACID: similar to lactic acid but milder. When added as a supporting ingredient in a formula that contains stronger acids (lactic, glycolic, or/and salicylic) it aids gentle exfoliation and ceramide stimulation.
  • TARTARIC ACID: this acid is used mostly to balance a formula’s p.H. level.
  • CITRIC ACID: you will probably see it in every ingredient list (the latest) because it works as a natural preservative and also balances formula’s p.H. It is really cool acid because it eats out any irritating impurities.
  • KOJIC ACID: inhibits and prevents the formation of tyrosine, which is an amino acid that’s needed to produce melanin. By all means, is amazing for hyperpigmentation and discolorations. It also lightens visible sun damage, age spots, or scars. This can result in an anti-aging effect on the skin.
    • CAUTION – can irritate or produce dermatitis or may sensitize – CONTRAINDICATIONS: very sensitive skins.
  • PHYTIC ACID: exfoliates, is a lovely antioxidant and brightens the skin. Improves skin appearance, texture, and health. It is suitable for all skin types.


  • Suitable for: oily, break-out-prone skin, acne, combination skin, blackheads, milia, open pores, you name it;
  • Clears away dead cells leaving a smoother and brighter complexion;
  • Powerful keratolytic, antimicrobial, anti-itch, antiseptic;
  • Lipophilic – attracted to oil (that is why loves oily skin);
  • Very efficient to treat breakouts, decongest and minimize pores;
  • studies show that 0.5-2% is effective to treat mild/moderate acne which is why under E.U. regulations everything above is illegal to be sold.
    • when used in excess, it can lead to dehydration so make sure you hydrate your skin;
    • not all products with salicylic are made to be used daily;
    • always use SPF;
    • it can irritate sensitive skins;
    • it is considered pregnancy-safe under 2%;
    • if you use other acids, use one in the morning and one in the evening;
  • CONTRAINDICATIONS: allergy to aspirin, rashes, wounds, burns, avoid direct sun, lip and chin waxing 24 hours before and after.


  • Suitable for: all skin types, especially break-out prone skins and melasma (hyperpigmentation);
  • naturally-occurring acid derived from grains like barley, wheat, and rye but is normally lab-engineered;
  • gently exfoliates as a leave-on;
  • is not either AHA or BHA;
  • soothes, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant;
  • evens skin tone (common for hyperpigmentation concerns), for visible skin imperfections (marks, blemishes, PIH);
    • even sensitive skins can use it due to its mild and soothing properties;
    • can be used with other acids as well – maybe not in the same time;
    • it can create tingling or redness;
  • it can be medically prescribed with 15-20% but 10% showed good improvement and can be found OTC.
  • CONTRAINDICATIONS: hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to its chemical compounds.

Was this helpful? Share this skincare acids guide! Please read the contraindications carefully.

In conclusion, are you currently using any AHA or BHA? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Are you afraid of introducing them to your skincare regimen? Don’t worry I am here to help. Check out my online skin consultation!

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