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Is It Really Safe to Use Beauty Products with Acid on My Face?

Been wondering about acids in skincare? Read here to learn more!

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At first glance, the concept of rubbing a beauty product with acid on your face can sound…worrisome at best. You may have visions of redness and stinging, but not all acids are created equal. Many of them can pack serious skin benefits (which explains why they’re so common in skincare formulas now). It’s important to keep in mind that different acids offer different perks—and of course, the possibility that your skin will respond to some acids differently than others, particularly if your skin is sensitive. Read on for a list of acids popularly used in skincare products, and how to distinguish between them.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is found naturally in the body, where it regulates water balance in your skin. It’s able to bind to and retain water, basically acting as a moisture magnet for your skin. With age, though, your hyaluronic acid levels drop (your diet and smoking can also have an effect on how much hyaluronic acid is in your body). Re-upping on it can help with wrinkles.

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids

Alpha-hydroxy acids (which include lactic, glycolic, tartaric, and citric acids) are the MVP of acids. They may minimize the look of fine lines, fade hyperpigmentation and dark spots, and help shrink pores. The downside: They can be harsh on skin, causing irritation and sensitivity to sun. If your skin tends to be sensitive, begin by using a formula with a low percentage (10 to 15 percent) of AHAs and apply it every other day, working your way up to daily use. And apply sunscreen on days when you do use alpha-hydroxy acids (but really, you should be using sunscreen every day!).

Salicylic Acid

No wonder salicylic acid features in so many acne products. It gently exfoliates skin, improving your skin texture and tone, and can also help with breakouts, since it penetrates those clogged pores. Plus, salicylic acid is less irritating than other exfoliating acids (like alpha-hydroxy acids), making it a good option for those with sensitive skin.

Kojic Acid

If you’ve ever dealt with skin discoloration, like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (which typically follows a pimple) and dark spots, then you’ve likely heard of hydroquinone, a common brightening ingredient. Kojic acid is basically nature’s version of that, and may be a good option if you’re allergic to hydroquinone. Derived from a fungus, kojic acid can effectively slow the production of pigment and even out skin tone.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Newer on the skincare scene than the other acids on this list, alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant—and a powerful one at that. It’s both water- and oil-soluble, so it can get in every part of your cells, where it helps repair damage and protect against free radicals (which can cause said damage). As a result, it can help reduce fine lines, boost radiance, and even super-charge other antioxidants.

Find other great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.