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 is very gentle and thought to have both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, while hydrating 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,” noting that it’s especially great as we shift to focus on 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 succinic acid is 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.
According to Dr. Elias, succinic acid is thought to have “potent anti-inflammatory effects and thus can help when combined with other treatments to alleviate inflammatory skin diseases like 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.
Dr. Elias says succinic acid works similarly to ceramides, a celebrated ingredient in many moisturizers due to its hydration-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
The INKEY List has an acne treatment that gives the ingredient top billing. The INKEY List Succinic Acid Treatment ($9) “is a triple threat to target acne for instant relief and recovery,” says Curry. It employs 2% 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, which uses succinic and lactic acids to attack acne-causing bacteria.