If you haven’t noticed succinic acid in skin-care products yet, you will soon. Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias explains that “it’s used in skin-care products typically as a supporting ingredient to the main affair like salicylic acid since it’s very gentle and thought to have both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, while hydrating skin and being safe for all skin types.”
Although it’s often been included as more of a backup dancer, succinic acid has begun to move center stage. “Due to the safe and gentle properties, it’s now moving more to the forefront with some skin-care lines featuring succinic acid as the lead ingredient,” says Dr. Elias. The INKEY List is one such company. Santa Monica, CA dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD calls succinic acid a “new hot ingredient in the cosmeceutical family. She says it’s especially great for sustainability since it’s low impact and can be sourced from biomass.
What is succinic acid?
Mark Curry, co-founder and lead formulator at The INKEY List, says succinic acid is a great multitasker. “At its core, it provides energy for metabolic processes making it a great active ingredient in skin-care formulas.” He explains that it’s a compound naturally found in amber, sugar cane and some living organisms. “Its antimicrobial properties have been used for centuries in therapeutics. Recently, studies have highlighted its amazing properties in reconditioning skin, and as an antioxidant, that could make this an ingredient generalist, right up there with the likes of retinol and vitamin C,” says Curry.
Although the word “acid” may scare you off, it’s actually not harsh. Curry says succinic acid isn’t an exfoliating acid and wouldn’t fit in with alpha- or beta-hydroxy acid. Instead, he says, you should put it in the same camp as hyaluronic acid. Dr. Shamban says it’s similarly structured to lipids in our skin, although smaller in size.
As mentioned, one of succinic acid’s crowning glories is its antimicrobial properties. Dr. Elias notes that there are a few studies that show the ingredient works very effectively against cutibacterium acnes, one of the many potential causes of breakouts. Curry adds that it has also been shown to inhibit fungi that lead to various kinds of acne. Due to this, cosmetic chemist Ginger King says it’s a great ingredient for those with acne-prone skin to have in their routine.
Not only can succinic acid help suppress acne-causing bacteria, but it also “helps remove sebum and dead skin in pores and skin crevices,” says Medicube brand manager Lyla Chang. “It dissolves dead skin to accelerate the skin-clearing cycle and helps soothe acne-prone skin.”
According to Dr. Elias, succinic acid is thought to have “potent anti-inflammatory effects. Thus it can help when combined with other treatments to alleviate inflammatory skin diseases like cystic acne, eczema, psoriasis, etc.” Additionally, Curry says it also has some analgesic effects, which help relieve some of the discomfort associated with certain skin conditions.
We know that maintaining robust collagen production is a significant part of preventing an aging appearance. Succinic acid comes into play here as Curry notes that studies have shown it inhibits the degradation of collagen. “It helps to increase the energy production in skin cells and reduces stress in aged and sleep-deprived skin,” says Trinny London Chief Innovation Officer Claire Byrne. “We’ve found that the ingredient aids in improving skin radiance, reviving tired skin. It can even, over time, help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”
Another virtue of succinic acid is its hydrating properties, says Chang. Dr. Elias says succinic acid works similarly to ceramides, a celebrated ingredient in many moisturizers due to its moisture-locking qualities. The two are alike in that they’re both “structurally similar to the fats in our skin, and thus they’re both very effective at moisturizing,” says Dr. Elias. “When combined with other products like hyaluronic acid, you get synergistic hydrating results.”
It’s an antioxidant
According to Dr. Shamban, succinic acid has antioxidant properties. Curry says, due to this, it can help protect the skin against free radical damage.
Products with succinic acid
King recommends The INKEY List Succinic Acid Treatment ($9). It’s “a triple threat to target acne for instant relief and recovery,” says Curry. “It employs two percent succinic acid to reduce inflammation and oil levels while clearing pores and preventing them from clogging again. It’s a cream formula with a green tint to help neutralize redness, so it’s easy to layer with makeup if needed,.”
Dr. Elias points to Curél Intensive Moisture Facial Cream ($30), a bestseller in Japan. It’s deeply hydrating and boasts a super lightweight texture. He also notes Perricone MD Acne Relief Maximum Strength Spot Gel ($19) is a standout option. The formula combines succinic and lactic acids to attack acne-causing bacteria.
Succinic acid appears in Trinny London Energise Me Moisturizer ($59), and Byrne says they love the benefits of the ingredient so much, it’s likely to appear in future launches as well. Soho Skin Liquid Exfoliator ($100) is a recent launch that features not only succinic but also lactic and mandelic acids. It’s great for toning, clarifying and improving skin texture. Chang says Medicube Red Succinic Acid Serum ($25) is the only product on the market that combines succinic acid and niacinamide. This formula helps address active acne, acne-prone skin and post-acne marks.