Today’s beauty aisles look like something straight out of a chemistry lab. Products are marked as containing ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid the list is endless. Other acids that beauty aficionados have been talking about include alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (better known as AHAs and BHAs). “Each acid ingredient works on solving specific skin concerns,” explains Irene Kim, head of marketing at Maccaron.in, a Korean skin care and cosmetics e-platform. But how much is too much, and which acid will work for you? To answer all this and more, our experts decode the trend.
What are they?
The term ‘acid’ might make these products seem dangerous, but the fact is that acids are more common than most might realise. Vinegar contains acetic acid, while lemons and oranges contain citric acid, just to offer two examples. What is important is the concentration and the strength of the acid—used at the right strength, several acids can be very beneficial for health. “Some acids are widely used to treat acne pigmentation, melasma, acne scars and uneven skin tones,” says Dr Stuti Khare, dermatologist and hair growth consultant. “But there are so many acids available in the market that choosing the right product can be overwhelming at times.” Essentially, skin care acids work by forcing old skin cells to be shed faster, causing new ones to grow below, thus improving the texture of the skin. Depending on the specific skin-care concern, there are specific acids that work best. Some are better for treating fine lines and wrinkles, others for acne or hyper-pigmentation. AHAs are water-soluble and work mostly on the skin’s surface, making them a good option for treating fine lines, texture and dullness. BHAs, on the other hand, can penetrate deeply into clogged pores and are therefore helpful in treating and preventing acne.
Know your type
The key to introducing acids into your skincare routine is to know what type of acid you should use and how often you should use it (this depends on the skin type). “The most popular acids these days are exfoliating acids—AHAs and BHAs. They are great for ensuring the removal of dead cells and providing healthy, even-looking skin,” says Kim. Since the masks forced on us by the pandemic can also cause skin irritation and maskne (mask-related acne), adding the correct acid to your routine to treat these issues can also help, says Kim, adding, “It’s recommended to introduce the acids slowly in your routine and to always do a patch test to find out how your skin reacts to specific products.”
One of the most popular acids used in skincare is hyaluronic acid. “It is a natural ingredient in our connective tissue,” says Dr Khare. “It is a main component of the skin structure and makes skin look plump and hydrated. Hyaluronic acid has multiple benefits as moisturiser—it helps in treating wrinkles, in skin rejuvenation and treating sensitive skin, it increases skin glow and also treats eczemas. It is a magical acid because it ensures the suppleness of skin by avoiding the trans-epidermal water loss by retaining the natural moisture of skin. It is considered to be a miraculous molecule for youthful skin and is being used widely as both a topical and injectable substance.”
There’s more than one
Other acids available in the market include azelaic acid, salicylic acid, kojic acid, lactic acid and mandelic acid. “These are used to treat acne-prone skin and pigmentation,” says Dr Khare. Azelaic acid is also a tyrosinase inhibitor, which means it can help avoid hyper pigmentation by interfering with melanin development. “Since it inhibits tyrosinase, it is both anti-inflammatory and anti-pigmenting for acne. If you have a pimple and are susceptible to developing dark spots as a result of it, azelaic acid would be an excellent option for you,” says Dr Khare. Ferulic acid and ascorbic acid are used to treat aging skin, fine lines and wrinkles. “Ferulic acid also protects the skin from the sun’s rays. It has the potential to promote the regrowth and renewal of sun-damaged skin. Radiation and pollution cause wrinkles and fine lines, and ferulic acid can help protect the skin from such damage,” adds Dr Khare. Then there is lactic acid. This is gentler than glycolic and attracts moisture to the skin, making it a hydrating agent. This AHA is made from sugar or fermented milk and is gentle enough for people with sensitive skin.
Too much of a good thing
Using advanced acids is all the rage, says Dr Kiran Sethi, an integrative aesthetician and owner of Delhi-based Isya Aesthetics. “However, there can be too much of a good thing—and skincare addicts are suffering because of it,” she says, adding that she has seen many overusing skin care acids. “They over-exfoliate or reduce the thick keratin layer on top of the epidermal layer of the skin, resulting in sensitivity and rashes, skin that is forever dry and peeling, redness, irritation, broken blood vessels, pimples and little bumps.” She recommends using only one product—an AHA, BHA or retinol product—and at max, once per day. “Don’t use both acids and retinols more than twice a week, unless guided by a doctor. Do a skin fast once a week or take a month off from actives (acids) regularly. And moisturise and use barrier ointments for protection and prevention at least once a week. If using AHA/ BHA/ retinol/ retinoid product, don’t use a scrub more than once a week.” Further ensure that you don’t mix acids, as that can lead to flare-ups and skin peeling. It is also advised to apply acids at night, since most acids make the skin sensitive to sun damage. If you have cuts or wounds, avoid using these products.
Above all, remember that while this is a great time to focus on your skin health, overdoing it or using products carelessly can be disastrous.
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