A Beginner's Guide To Acids

To the uninitiated (or sensitive skinned), seeing the words ‘acid’ and ‘skin’ used in the same sentence can be terrifying. But, according to Dermalologist, Dr Natasha Cook, they’re actually a necessary skincare step for ALL skin types (even sensitive) - as they help balance your PH levels. Here – our guide to acids – the hows, why’s and definitely do’s for beginners or the more delicate skinned among us.

                    IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @angelcandices

                    IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @angelcandices


1: Lactic acid is your new best friend.

Once you get into Lactic acid it will be like an Aha! moment for your skin. Quite literally as it’s also an AHA. “Out of all the acids, this one is the most gentle,” says Natasha. “Its molecule is big enough that it sinks slowly and gently into your skin, unlike smaller molecule acids like glycolic acids that absorb far too rapidly into your skin, too much to fast can definitely irritate sensitive skin.” Another bonus to Lactic acid: It's a humectant. What this means is it absorbs and holds in water and moisture...this is absolutely key if you have sensitive skin. Try The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%.


2: Know the basics

AHA, BHA’s, HA’S?? Are all these acronyms sounding a bit science lab for your liking? Here’s the breakdown. AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and BHA stands for Beta Hydroxy Acid. All Hydroxy acids are derived from food (e.g. milk, sugarcane) or plant sources (willow bark) – the difference being that Alpha’s are water soluble and Betas are Oil soluble – making them more effective on oily skins. Hyaluronic acid, (or HA) is actually naturally ocurring in the body, is suitable with all skin types and acts a moisture binder to give your skin maximum quench factor. It doesn’t work like Hydroxy Acids to dissolve or slough skin but it’s incredibly gentle and hydrating for tricky skin types. Try Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum.


3. Look for aminos to soften the blows

When attempting acids for the first time, remember, it’s all about the formulation. One trick is to look for a moisturiser that combines AHA or BHA’s with amino acids as this will slow down the penetration of the acids into the skin. Try Ole Henriksen Invigorating Transformation Night Crème.


4. Don't be scared to mix it up a little

Lactic has another clever property. When combined with salicylic acid. it can have a synergistic effect, becoming even easier for sensitive skin to be able to tolerate. The lactic cell renews and binds moisture. On the other hand, the salicylic is lipophilic, which means it is oil soluble and can prevent blackheads and whiteheads when it gets super deep into those hard to reach follicles. Try Dr Natasha Cook Concentrated Clarifier.


5: Go slow and low to start

When you first introduce acids into your skincare routine you want to go very gently. Start with half a pea sized squirt or a very quick swipe (if it’s a liquid) then add an unscented moisturiser straight away to calm skin. “Perhaps start just using a couple of times a week eg Monday Wednesday Friday,” suggests Natasha. “After a week or so increase to second nightly then ultimately nightly.” Try Neostrata Bionic Face Serum 10% PHA.


6. Then keep it up daily

Once your skin happily tolerates a little acid, you should keep it up to keep the cell turnover going. “The skin acts like its own metabolic system, just like the rest of your body it needs a daily workout. Acids are what will help keep the skins “metabolism” in check, so that it produces fresh new skin cells at the rate you want it to,” explains Natasha. “Our skin cell turnover begins to slow down from every 30 days in your 20’s to 40-60 days in your 30’s and 40’s, so daily is incredibly essential.” Try Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. 


Story by Michelle Mullen.