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!
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!
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.