They may sound scary, but acids are some of the most effective ingredients in skin care. “Acids can change your skin and take it to the next level in terms of how good it can look,” says celebrity aesthetician Nerida Joy. First used to treat acne scarring, “Milder formulations have been developed that target just about every skin concern,” says New York dermatologist Snehal Amin, MD. There’s an acid available for every type of skin and every type of problem, but the real reason why they’re so popular is due to the fact that they really work.
Best for: Acne and anti-aging purposes
How it works: Retinoic acid has a host of benefits including revving up collagen production, accelerating skin cell shedding and evening out skin tone. “One of the side effects of it is some skin flaking—it’s meant to cause skin cell turnover to improve the look of skin, making it more youthful,” says New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD.
Find it in: Skin Laundry Night Renew Treatment ($40)
Best for: Lightening discoloration and age spots
How it works: Kojic acid is effective in evening out skin color. “It can help rid skin of age spots and some scars,” says Dover, OH, facial plastic surgeon David M. Hartman, MD. Because it boasts effects similar to hydroquinone, it’s an excellent alternative for those who want long-term lightening without the risks that come with hydroquinone.
Best for: Acne and congested skin, as well as boosting cell turnover
How it works: Antibacterial salicylic acid acts as an exfoliator to lift up discolored and damaged skin cells and improve tone. It’s the acid of choice for treating acne because it dries up blemishes by unclogging packed pores and loosening up trapped dirt and oil. But, it can be irritating cause skin sensitivities, especially if you have a heavy hand with it.
Get it in: Zelens PHA+ Bio Peel Resurfacing Pads ($95)
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Best for: Antioxidant protection and minimizing the look of lines and wrinkles
How it works: This potent acid can prevent damage in your skin and get your skin’s vitamins levels back to normal (mostly vitamin C and E). “Alpha lipoic acid gives skin a healthy glow, and it’s also good for acne,” says Dr. Amin.
Find it in: Perricone MD Face Finishing Moisturizer Tint ($75)
Best for: Sensitive skin types and encouraging cell turnover
How it works: A weaker version of glycolic acid, magic acid is more suitable for those with extremely sensitive skin. An effective exfoliating agent, malic acid, like most AHAs, loosens up the bond that holds dead skin cells together and also provides anti-aging benefits.
Find it in: Bioelements Kerafole ($50)
Best for: Making new collagen in skin and stopping free-radical damage
How it works: Acting as more of an antioxidant than what you would associate with an exfoliating acid, ferulic acid is usually combined with another ingredient like retinol or vitamin C or E to provide super-charged protection from the sun and pollution.
Find it in: Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid & Retinol Brightening Solution ($88)
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