Face Acids: How To Choose One for Your Skin Type


Here’s the tip of the day: add face acids to your beauty routine. Acids are a great ingredient in skincare that help combat wrinkles, scarring, uneven tone, and acne.

“Skincare acids can help combat various skin concerns. Choosing the right acid for your skin can help you achieve your dream complexion.”
Shani Darden, Celebrity Esthetician

Using the right acid, with the right concentration, in the right order is where things can get a little tricky. It is truly amazing to see how far skincare has come and how we can achieve our best complexion by using the correct products for our skin. The trick is figuring out what acids to use for our skin type. Before we can get into the types of acids that are out there, it is useful to know why acids are beneficial.

What Is Cell Turnover?

Cell turnover is the process by which our new skin cells push dead skin cells to the surface. Think of how quickly any bumps and scrapes healed when you were a child and how those same bumps and scrapes take much longer to heal as you age. 

This is especially so with any blemishes on your face. As you age, those blemishes take longer to heal and can scar much easier. As we get older, the time it takes for cells to turnover starts to get longer and longer, and dead skin cells may start to pile up. 

This buildup causes your complexion to appear lackluster, and your pores can become blocked, which causes blemishes to appear. While exfoliating manually can help with sloughing off those dead skin cells, chemical exfoliation can go further to help support cell turnover

Acids break down the bonds between cells, encouraging them to turn over at a healthy rate. This allows for the more youthful cells to take their rightful place in the front of the line for some serious aging in reverse.

What Types of Skincare Acids Are There?

You’ve probably seen the initials AHA and BHA on the labels of some of your skincare products — these initials mean that the product contains an acid. 

Most acids can be categorized as an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta hydroxy acid (BHA). There is a smaller category of acids called polyhydroxy acids (PHA), as well as acids that do not fit in any specific category. 

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA)

These brightening acids are derived from natural sources, like sugar cane and fruits. The main goal of AHAs is to promote chemical exfoliation of your surface skin. AHAs can help reduce the appearance of fine lines, unclog pores, and even out the look of skin tone and texture. AHAs are effective when addressing pigmentation, discoloration, or age spots

AHAs are also water-soluble, meaning that they absorb into your skin very easily. This can also mean that AHAs may irritate sensitive skin, but as long as you start off slowly with a low concentration, you will likely be glowing in no time.

AHAs can be a bit more irritating when compared to other types of acids. It is also recommended not to combine any AHAs with retinoids. This doesn’t mean you cannot use AHAs, though! Use one treatment in the morning and one in the evening to give your skin plenty of time to absorb the treatment applied and be ready for a new product. 

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is popular due to its fast turnaround in the results department. While some acids may take weeks and weeks to show a difference, glycolic acid tends to lead to a pretty rapid turnaround. If you experience breakouts, you can also utilize glycolic acid to help fade the appearance of scars

If you have never used acids before, incorporating glycolic acid into your skincare regimen is a great place to start because it is well-tolerated by most skin types. If you have very dry or highly sensitive skin, you may want to steer clear. It is wise to do a patch test with any acids before applying them to your entire face.

One way to incorporate glycolic acid, among others, into your routine in an effective way is to use an effective, but gentle chemical peel. Triple Acid Signature Peel. It is a 2-step peel powered by a trio of acids glycolic, lactic and mandelic) to resurface and brighten, plus a neutralizing mask to deep clean and refines pores. Dr. Dennis Gross Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peel Pads are another way to exfoliate with the power of acids.

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid is similar to glycolic acid, but its chemical structure is larger in size, meaning that it is less penetrative to the skin. This is good news for those with super sensitive skin. However, lactic acid is lightly hydrating in comparison to glycolic acid. So your choice between lactic and glycolic acid is really dependent on your skin type and the problems you are looking to address.

This acid is another AHA that will help with reducing the appearance of your skin’s texture and tone, as well as helping lighten dark spots and smoothing out any fine lines you may find popping up on your face. 

A great addition to your skincare routine is my Lactic Acid Serum, which supports smoother and brighter skin while being gentle and moisturizing. 

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)

You have probably used BHAs and did not realize it, especially if you have used any products to combat acne. These types of acids are oil-soluble, meaning they penetrate your sebaceous glands to remove dead skin and reduce oils. BHAs penetrate much deeper than AHAs and can be effective in minimizing the appearance of deep wrinkles. 

BHAs also have antibacterial properties, making them very effective treatment options for anyone experiencing breakouts or acne. Those who experience rosacea can also tolerate BHAs fairly well. While there are several types of BHAs, salicylic acid is our heavy hitter and will be the BHA you’ll most commonly see in products. 

Salicylic Acid

An ingredient you are likely already familiar with, salicylic acid is present in most acne treatments. This BHA helps keep pores clear of excess oils to minimize the frequency of blemishes

Serums are a great choice for acne-prone skin. Is Clinical Active Serum is a best-selling serum that delivers instant an ongoing relief against breakouts. Botanical-derived salicylic, lactic and glycolic acids gently exfoliate, brighten and clean pores to fight congestion, all while targeting fine lines and wrinkles. It’s even suitable for new moms.

Acne-prone and oily skin types will benefit from using salicylic acid. Those with larger pores will also appreciate salicylic acid’s ability to minimize the size of pores. When using salicylic acid in your routine, you will want to avoid using other acids at the same time as your skin may become irritated.

Polyhydroxy Acids (PHA)

As skincare develops, new products are brought on board so all skincare types can have a way to address their skincare concerns. Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) are more gentle and do not penetrate as deeply as their alpha cousin. 

Those who find AHAs and BHAs irritating might find PHAs more gentle and even hydrating. In fact, while AHAs and BHAs are not recommended to be used with retinol, PHAs have been found to be well-tolerated when paired with retinol. You can find PHA in my Lactic Acid Serum.

Where Does Hyaluronic Acid Fit In?

While hyaluronic acid isn’t classified as an AHA or a BHA, it still deserves an honorable mention due to its superpower hydrating properties. Hyaluronic acid can absorb a thousand times its weight in water, which gives your skin a plump and moisturized appearance all day long. 

Many moisturizers contain hyaluronic acid due to its amazing hydrating quality, including my Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer. This weightless moisturizer is light enough for daily use but attracts and retains moisture that will leave your skin glowing without looking shiny. 

How Can I Incorporate Acid Products into My Skincare Routine?

While every acid is not listed in this guide, you now have a beginner’s knowledge of acids to start you on the right foot of turning over those cells more rapidly. When using acids as skincare ingredients, there are a few key things to remember in order to avoid dryness:

  • Don’t layer AHAs and BHAs at the same time. While some products contain both, they have been specially formulated to have the right concentrations to work together. Using both of these powerhouses simultaneously can be overwhelming for your skin and may result in side effects like irritation and redness.
  • Take care using any acids with retinol. The combination of these powerful products can be too much for your skin if you apply them all at once. 
  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! Using acids makes you more sensitive to the sun. You’ll want to incorporate a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, ideally within your moisturizer. 
  • Consult with a dermatologist or esthetician to ensure that you are using the right acids for your skin type and concerns. 

The Bottom Line

It can be overwhelming trying to sift through the countless options of acids that are out there. Essentially we can break down the types of acids into these simple schools of thought.

AHAs address fine lines, pigmentation, and uneven skin tone. They are water-soluble and may cause more irritation to early beginners. Start slow with a low concentration. 

BHAs, on the other hand, address any blemish concerns and can penetrate deeper than AHAs since they are oil-soluble. They are also generally more easily tolerated.

PHAs are an even gentler cousin of AHAs, meaning they are easily tolerated and can be combined with retinol.


Acids are fantastic products that can and should be used in your skincare routine, especially if you want to accelerate cell turnover and have a youthful glow. Knowing your skin type and your skin concerns are the key considerations when choosing the acid that will give you the best results. 


Making an epidermis | PMC

Alpha Hydroxy Acids | FDA

Beta Hydroxy Acids | FDA

The use of polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) in photoaged skin | National Library of Medicine

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