They’re the unsung heroes of skincare. Here’s which ones will sharpen up your beauty routine
The biggest misconception about acids is that they make your skin peel, burn and turn red,” says Sarah Tonks, an aesthetic doctor at the Omniya Mediclinic in Knightsbridge. This may have a lot to do with how we perceive acid in our daily lives: lemons and grapefruits taste tart and bitter, and if you look up the word in a thesaurus, the synonyms are “pungent”, “sharp” and “biting”.
Acids found in skincare, however, are the unsung heroes of the beauty world and can target many skin concerns. “When used in a controlled way, daily topical use can transform your complexion speedily, with no damage,” says the facialist Linda Palcic. Better yet, regular use can correct sun damage, minimise acne scarring, deliver radiant skin and rev up collagen production.
There are two types of acids you need to know about: the exfoliators, known as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), which go way beyond what a standard scrub can do; and the hydrators, namely hyaluronic acid, which has been a beauty buzzword since the early Noughties.
Unlike many skincare trends, hyaluronic acid has stayed on the scene. “It occurs naturally in the body to improve hydration, stimulate collagen and maintain skin elasticity,” says Dr Maryam Zamani, an aesthetic surgeon at Cadogan Cosmetics. However, it breaks down daily and depletes with age. Cue the topical stuff.
“Hyaluronic acid is the most powerful hydrator on the market,” says Esther Fieldgrass, founder of EF Medispa. Until now, its effectiveness was limited, as the skin struggled to absorb the large molecule. However, new formulas claim to penetrate the skin with varying sizes of molecules. Try Dr Sebagh Serum Repair (£69) and Ren Instant Brightening Beauty Shot Eye Lift (£30).
One more thing. According to Kelly: “Acids make skin more sensitive to the sunlight in summer, so now is the perfect time to get started.” What are you waiting for?
The six to know
NeoStrata Smooth Surface Daily Peel, £50
Best for Flaky, dull skin and mild pigmentation.
How it works “This is the smallest molecule of the AHA group, so it can penetrate skin the deepest,” says Fieldgrass. Small doses can shrink pores, lighten imperfections and brighten skin. The key is to begin with pea-sized amounts and slowly increase frequency to find your tolerance level. “Using too much can cause redness and sensitivity to sunlight,” warns the plastic surgeon Dr Marko Lens.
Try NeoStrata Smooth Surface Daily Peel, £50
Bakel Antioxidant Serum with Lactobionic Acid, £105
Best for Sensitive skin. Regular use hydrates, helps with discolouration and can create an even surface.
How it works “It’s the gentler version of glycolic acid,” says Kerr. It’s the second smallest molecule of the AHA group and is ideal if your skin struggles to tolerate products.
Try Bakel Antioxidant Serum with Lactobionic Acid, £105
Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads, £65
Best for Acne, and congested and oily skin.
How it works “It’s the one ingredient that can penetrate and dissolve the sebum in the skin,” says Natali Kelly, an aesthetic practitioner at the Omniya clinic. It’s the acid of choice for treating acne, as it unclogs pores and loosens trapped dirt and oil. “It also speeds up the shedding of epidermal skin cells and neutralises bacteria in pores,” says Tonks.
Try Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads, £65
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, £129
Best for Anti-ageing and reversing sun damage.
How it works “This is one of the most powerful antioxidants for the skin, as it protects against environmental aggressors and rejuvenates collagen fibres,” says Kerr. “It also provides sun protection, lightens pigmentation and improves skin texture.”
Try SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, £129
Medik8 Beta Cleanse, £23.50
Best for Pigmentation and rosacea-prone skin.
How it works It’s the star ingredient for acne sufferers who are left withpigment marks. “It helps with collagen production and instantly brightens your complexion,” Kerr says. “Plus it’s ideal for dark skin as it won’t cause discolouration.”
Try Medik8 Beta Cleanse, £23.50
Retinoic acid (An active form of retinol)
La Roche-Posay Redermic, £30
Best for Anti-ageing and collagen restimulation.
How it works Regular use thickens the skin’s dermis and has a plumping and brightening effect. You need a prescription for retinoic acid in the UK, so give retinol a go. It’s gentler, and turns into the acid once it has been oxidised in the skin cells. While it may take longer to see the results, it will still plump up wrinkles.
Try La Roche-Posay Redermic, £30