Scared of acids? This beauty journo gives you the easy 101 on acids in skincare

Jasmine Wicks Stephens
From K Beauty to G Beauty, navigating the skincare world can often be a minefield. With the excessive beauty jargon and plethora of acids it’s no wonder that the thought of buying a new product can fill us will dread. Unless you’ve been fortunate enough to see a facialist or dermatologist regularly, it’s likely that you might not know the full extent of the ingredients within your products.

In the plight to achieve perfect skin it’s easy to overindulge on the active ingredients and acids, which of course compromises their potency and could then leave you with dry patches, redness, irritation and even spots.

The suffering our skin experiences from this overhaul is quite literally the antithesis of the perfect skin we’re setting out to achieve.

So, if you’re looking for a clue card to set you straight, here’s a guide to the most common acids you’ll find in skincare products. Radiant skin, here we come.

Azelaic Acid

Also known as beauty’s best kept secret. This acid is derived from yeast and barley and so it usually naturally appears on the skin, but it has a number of hidden talents, especially when applied topically.

It works as a gentle exfoliant which can help to diminish hyper pigmentation and acne scarring, fight the signs of ageing, and help to smooth the skin surface - see it really does it all. This wonder product can also be used as a magnifier, so those with

Citric Acid

Citric acid is an AHA which can of course be naturally found in citrus fruits. It works as an exfoliant, removing the layers of dead skin cells which in turn helps to even skin tone and fight the signs of ageing. Those with very oily skin will benefit from this acid as works as a liquid exfoliant, unclogging pores, but also helping to maintain the optimum pH level on our skin between 4.7 and 5.75.

Glycolic Acid

This acid is also an AHA, but glycolic acid is naturally found in sugarcane. If you haven’t heard of this superhero before it should definitely be on your radar because you can’t achieve a glow without glycolic.

It’s a chemical exfoliant that helps to dissolves the bonds that bind your epidermis and dead skin cells, to reveal perfectly radiant skin. This of course means if you suffer from hyperpigmentation, ageing skin, breakouts or even dullness, glycolic acid has got you covered. It penetrates your skin pretty deeply so as with any heavy hitting skin ingredient, start small whether it be using it one a week, and work up incrementally to make it a staple in your routine.

While retinol is a vitamin as opposed to an acid, in its retinoic acid form it’s a non-negotiable in every skincare routine, so of course it deserved a place on this list.

Hyaluronic Acid

Now chances are, if your skin is seeking a surge of moisture hyaluronic acid will be your match made in heaven. I know it might sound like we’re back in school ready to set some concoction aflame with our trusty bunsen burner, but skin texture and moisture cannot be without this trusty product.

Our skin naturally produces this, but the cold weather and ageing can zap much of it out of us, which causes flaking, dryness, and overall dull skin. The substance itself is pretty gloopy and thick, a far cry from the usual runny formulas we’re used to seeing. Once you pat this thick substance into your skin, bounce and plumpness will be restored to your skin. It can help to reverses the signs of fine lines and if you lock it in with a moisturiser after, helps your skin to retain moisture.

Lactic Acid

Now just the mere sight of the word “lactic” might give you Deja vu or rather, nightmares of biology class at school, but if your skin is looking dry and dull but you don’t want something too harsh, look no further.

It’s pretty similar to glycolic acid in that it is a liquid exfoliant used to treat hyperpigmentation and signs of ageing. But the key difference with lactic acid is that it’s far more suitable for sensitive skin. Occasionally skin can be too sensitive for glycolic acid which means it can burn, but lactic acid has the same peeling qualities but it’s a milder approach. It can also work as a peel but removing the layer of epidermis, what’s not to like?!


While retinol is a vitamin as opposed to an acid, in its retinoic acid form it’s a non-negotiable in every skincare routine, so of course it deserved a place on this list. This is of course derived from retinol and is one of the few products on the market that is 100% effective on reversing fine line and wrinkles. The also help to promote cell regeneration so if you suffer from hyperpigmentation it helps to reduce this and works on the texture on your skin if you’re trying to combat breakouts.

This is in the vitamin A family that can also be used as a food supplement to slow down the ageing process. If you use it in a serum form, I would allow 20 minutes after you pat it into the skin before applying other serums and moisturisers, to allow it to sink into the skin. With retinoids you should definitely start slow and build up to regular use. But do note that when you first start with them your skin might appear dull, and dry, but don’t worry this won’t last as skin will make way for fresh and radiant skin. So, stick with it and trust the process.


Another of the acids in the AHA family, salicylic should be in your armoury if you’re looking to combat breakouts. It penetrates the layers of the skin destroying whiteheads and blackheads in its path and reducing sebum.

Many dermatologists are encouraging us to leave physical exfoliators behind due to the damaging effects that it has on the skins surface, so if you’re looking for a substitute, this is your best bet. This physical exfoliator quite literally works as a magnet to unclog pores, cleaning out all the aggressors of spots.

For those with sensitive skin, use a lower concentration of this acid as it could irritate the skin.

You can find Lollie King on Insta @lollieking

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