A scary name with scary good benefits: acids are one of the most beneficial ingredients in skincare today. Acids help fight acne, kill bacteria, lighten marks, soften wrinkles, and increase collagen. But before you reap those benefits, you have to know where to start!
A great starter peel for light and quick chemical exfoliation. This formula contains a mix of alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric) as well as a punch of acne-fighting beta hydroxy in the form salicylic acid. The AHAs exfoliate the top surface of the skin and the BHAs clear congested pores. What makes this peel stand out is the number of “comfort” ingredients to reduce irritation: Tasmanian pepperberry, vitamin B5, and hyaluronic acid. If you’ve been scared to take the plunge into peels, this is your first stop!
A leave-on overnight treatment packed with clarifying ingredients: African black soap, AHA, and BHA. The most unique ingredient is the black soap which is made from the ash and oils of West African plants such as shea tree bark, plantain skins, cocoa pods, and palm tree leaves. The black soap in this serum has an astringent effect to clear pores and tonify skin.
Acids of all types are known for drying out skin, because they eat up the entire top layer—good and bad. The lipid layers of the skin help lock in moisture. Typical peels will destroy those moisture-locking lipids, which can be disastrous for severely dry or aging skin. If you can’t spare a drop of moisture, we recommend a gentle enzyme peel. Enzymes, unlike other acids, only eat dead skin cells while living your lipids alone. Hallelujah!
Not quite a peel, not quite a moisturizer, this blend of papaya, yuzu lemon, and vitamin C is in a class all its own. The blend of fruit acids tones and brightens but isn’t quite strong enough to trigger exfoliation, so feel free to use this in the morning or under makeup. A perfect beginner’s serum!
Lactic acid is one of the gentlest direct acids, and helps speed up skin turnover and stimulate cell renewal. A low-strength lactic peel is the most recommended for rosacea and sensitive skin. While the brand makes an even gentler five percent version, we recommend starting at ten percent or higher. Lactic acid is so weak compared to other acids that percentage levels simply don’t compare. What we love about this lactic formulation is the Tasmanian pepperberry and hyaluronic acid to reduce irritation and add moisture at the same time.
Once your skin has become accustomed to lower strength acids, you’ll need to upgrade to really see the deeper results of skin firming. A fifty percent lactic formulation is capable of promoting fibrolasts and collagen to fill in those lines. It also erases darker and deeper age spots and acne scars. Even at this higher strength, lactic still feels gentler on the skin than other AHAs.
Salicylic acid has the smallest molecule size of any cosmetic acid, which means it’s the only acid that really gets down into congested pores. If you have blackheads or pimples, salicylic peels will be your new holy grail. Fair warning, though: salicylic acid stings! Standing with your face near an open freezer door can help numb the pain until the peel has fully dissolved. This is our favorite twenty percent salicylic peel, as it’s the least irritating, but we also like this Perfect Image peel with additional antioxidants and antibacterial action.
We almost didn’t include this product, because salicylic acid works much better at higher concentrations. It’s also a masque rather than a peel. However, those with really sensitive skin can use this product to work up a tolerance. Don’t expect miracles from such a low concentration, but it might help de-clog light blackheads.
We are so glad to finally see an over the counter product with our favorite multi-action treatment: azelaic acid. This newer ingredient is antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory. Although you need to use it regularly to see benefits, it is worth the patience for rosacea and acne skin. Azelaic acid also has mild brightening and anti-aging effects. Note: this is a leave-on cream.
Yes, technically an acid (think ascorbic acid), vitamin C is a skin brightening and tone evening powerhouse. Now what does skin “brightening” mean, exactly? The first meaning is lightening hyperpigmented spots (red acne marks). The second is sloughing away dead and dull upper skin layers. We like this Perricone MD product because it uses an ester form of vitamin C that packs a punch without irritating the skin.
For the lazy skin-a-nista, this product is a combo of two key brighteners: vitamin C and alpha arbutin. Both are two sides of the same coin and help fade red marks and dark spots. The vitamin C is in its most potent form, ascorbic acid, which means this formula will work faster but may irritate sensitive skin in the process.
Tired of vitamin C yet? Well, don’t be—this little ingredient is just that versatile! This silicone formula’s complete absence of water gives it unmatched chemical stability to accommodate a whopping 30% of pure L-ascorbic acid. While the brand recommends applying at night, we recommend the morning as the silicone formulation is incredibly smooth and makeup friendly. And keep in mind that even this elegant cream has the potential to stain pillowcases due to the high concentration of vitamin C, which provides another reason to stick to daytime application.
We may as well call this a cosme-ceutical because of all the innovative science packed into one dropper. The star ingredient is a concentrated and completely stable 25% ethylated vitamin C for maximum glow. Then comes a pre-solubized resorcinol complex for further brightening and oxidant scavenging. Looking for vitamin C reinvented? Look no further.