Beauty and its intersections.
Past Masque Up Entries
All About Facial Oils
11 Summer Essentials
My Favorite Sunscreens for Dark Skin
Winter Skin 101
8 Acids That Will Fix Your Skin and Your Life
A Conversation on Beauty
Setting the Tone
Some Scars Are Cool. Some Scars Are a Pain in the Ass.
Learning Curves: A Skincare Guide
Masque Up by Alesia Pullins
8 Acids That Will Fix Your Skin and Your Life
In this handy guide, Alesia breaks down the buzzwords to help you find the perfect acid for your skin.
Acids are the most essential part of my skincare routine and I’m of the opinion that no skincare routine is complete without at least one. The first acid I tried was vitamin C which turned out to be a gateway to the wonderful world of facial acids and chemical exfoliants. My preferred mode of delivery for acids is through a serum. Serums contain the highest concentration of an ingredient and are packed with nutrients. However, facial acids also come in the form of peels, masks, and assorted treatments. Regardless of your chosen method, acids are powerhouse ingredients that can eliminate or aid with a myriad of skin issues such as acne, dehydration, wrinkles, and hyper-pigmentation to name a few.
So, you’re down to try it, but where do you start? With so many buzzwords and expensive miracle products out on the market, it might seem like you’ll need to sacrifice necessities like food and shelter to be able to afford testing all the products on your way to immaculate skin. Luckily, you don’t have to make that choice, because I’ve done all of the money burning for you. My commitment to beauty has left me with little patience for ineffective products so here is a straightforward list of my favorite acids along with recommended products and tips to help you get the most out of your skincare routine. I’ve personally tried the majority of these recommendations and have done extensive research to make suggestions that I feel would be worth trying. Take notes, share with friends, save a life. 😉💅
Best for brightening (not whitening), protection from free radicals and sun damage, hyper-pigmentation
Better known as vitamin C, L-Ascorbic acid is the product I’m most vigilant about in my skincare routine because it dramatically decreases dark spots and hyper-pigmentation while protecting your skin from free radicals and sun damage. When you use vitamin C in conjunction with sunscreen you’re pretty much invincible against the sun, who as we all know is the biggest hater in existence. Finding a worthwhile vitamin C product can be tricky, so here are some tips.
Tip 1: Use a serum. Serums provide concentrated amounts of your ingredient of choice. Vitamin C in it’s purest form is an extremely temperamental ingredient that typically needs to be shielded from sunlight and air in order to be effective. There are derivatives of vitamin C that aren’t photosensitive, however the effectiveness is subjective. Look for serums that come in dark or opaque packaging with airtight droppers and dispensers.
Tip 2: Formulation. In order for vitamin C to be effective, the percentage should be between 10.5% and 15%. Most products that meet this will proudly display it on their packaging. If you have to read a long list of ingredients on the back of a bottle before you arrive at vitamin C, save your money. Typically the lower on the list an ingredient is, the lower the percentage used. Which leads me to ...
Tip 3: You get what you pay for. Vitamin C is the product I splurge on because it’s a powerhouse of brightening and prevention. If you’re going to add it to your regimen, it’s best to get it right the first time instead of throwing money into the fire.
For reducing redness and blemishes, producing collagen
The benefits of Niacinamide, aka vitamin B3, are seemingly endless when applied to skin. This antioxidant will aide in eliminating acne because it is anti-inflammatory and prevents blemishes by attacking the sebum and dead skin cells that clog pores and trigger outbreaks. Niacinamide is also an anti-aging acid that encourages collagen production and moisture (even oily skin types! Oily skin does not equal hydrated skin!) which we all need for a healthy glow. Last but not least, and why I’m a fan, this derivative of niacin fades discoloration and hyper-pigmentation. Scars and dark marks can be the bane of your existence when you have dark skin. Niacinamide when used at 4% strength evens out your complexion without the harmful lightening side effects associated with hydroquinone. Note: vitamin C and Niacinamide when used together can trigger irritation. It’s best to use them at separate times; for instance, vitamin C as part of your day routine and niacinamide at night.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Best for exfoliating dry and/or sensitive skin, treating dullness
Commonly referred to as AHA’s, Alpha Hydroxy Acids are exfoliators that are excellent for those with dry and or sensitive skin. An AHA will loosen up (“unglue”) surface debris (dead skin) on your face, immediately revealing a fresher complexion and preventing clogged pores that lead to breakouts, without leaving your skin parched or inflamed. Unless you’re using an AHA in a scrub or chemical peel, you’ll want to use products meant to be left on your skin because an AHA works best when it’s left on long enough to penetrate the skin’s surface. For this reason AHAs are best used at night – and in the daytime a sunscreen is non-negotiable, you don’t want to undo all of your hard work by letting sun rays damage your new skin. Some of my favorite AHAs are lactic acid, mandelic acid, and glycolic acid. Here’s a breakdown according to strength.
The gentlest of AHAs is derived from almonds (a NO for those with nut allergies), and useful for beginners looking to fade discoloration. It’s especially gentle on sensitive, dark skin prone to scarring, and is oil soluble (unlike most AHA’s) so if you have oily skin that is acne prone this will be great for you too. Mandelic is low on the moisturizing scale, but shouldn’t leave your skin dehydrated or inflamed because it works less rapidly than other AHAs.
A step up from mandelic acid in terms of aggressiveness, extracted from milk (so steer clear if you have a dairy allergy), lactic acid is a must for dry skin types because it is a hydrating exfoliant that leaves your skin plump by encouraging collagen growth which fills in fine lines. It also works wonders at evening out acne scars and hyper-pigmentation while exfoliating your skin’s surface. You can find lactic acid in plenty of products ranging from serums to moisturizers, however I prefer it in chemical peel form because it yields faster results.
The most popular of AHAs and essential for smoothing rough or textured (deep set scarring) skin. It’s stronger than lactic and mandelic acid, but still gentle enough for dry and acne prone skin. It penetrates your skin’s surface deeper than most AHAs and cleans out your pores. Regular use will reveal a more radiant complexion, and a softer surface because glycolic acid loosens up and dissolves all of the sebum (oil and dead skin cells) blocking your glow.
Beta Hydroxy Acids
Best for treating and exfoliating oily acne-prone skin
BHAs are the go-to exfoliant if you have oily skin that is extremely acne prone. You can of course use an AHA if you have acne, but a BHA will do a more effective job of cutting through excessive oil and sebum, penetrating the layers of your skin and clearing bacteria out of your pores. BHAs are not photosensitive so you can use then day or night, however you still need to use a sunscreen to protect your delicate new skin. The MVP of BHAs is salicylic acid.
Derived from salicin (a property of aspirin so use caution if you’re allergic), salicylic acid is incredibly popular because of its effectiveness in eradicating blackheads and whiteheads. It’s one of the more affordable acids that can be found in many drugstore products. A dollop of salicylic acid on a blemish will attack the infection and seemingly make it disappear overnight. The only drawback with this acid is it can be very drying, so if you’re already prone to dryness a rich moisturizer should be used in conjunction.
Excellent for hydrating dry and dull skin, plumping fine lines, and wrinkles
Moisture is the first line of defense against visible signs of aging making hyaluronic acid, which is already hanging out in your skin tissue, your best friend. If your skin is dry or chapped you’ll want to dive into a vat of hyaluronic acid and chill there forever. HA literally pulls moisture from your environment even if you live in the desert or are suffering through the cruelest of winters, and into the outermost layer of skin leaving your face supple and plump, which is why it’s used in injectables such as Juvederm and Restylane. It’s a mainstay in moisturizers for dry skin, but for peak luxury go with a serum for a concentrated amount. Because it’s a master hydrator, it’s best to use HA after applying drying acids like AHAs/BHAs and retinoids - think of it as sealant. For extra luxuriousness, add a few drops to your favorite moisturizer for extended hydration.
Essential for anti-aging and preventing wrinkles, evening complexion, and treating acne
Retinoids are various forms of vitamin A. We’re going to focus on Tretinoin and Retinol. Tretinoin is the heavy weight of vitamin A. It can be found in intense prescription acne medications like Retin A. Retinol is a less aggressive derivative of vitamin A and can be bought over the counter. A retinoid will clear up acne and scarring, speed up cell turnover to even out discoloration and textured skin and shed dead skin cells. With continued use it will prevent signs of aging such as wrinkles and fine lines. It is light sensitive and can be drying so it’s best used at night. Retinoids are so no-nonsense you’ll be hard pressed to find skincare professionals who don’t use it. Because it is so aggressive - retinoids remove the top layer of your skin - you’ll want to avoid using retinol in conjunction with AHAs and other acne treatments because mixing them will lead to irritation. Like vitamin C, retinoids are pricey because they work. So be prepared to wince a bit at prices. Beauty is pain, y’all.
My recommendations: For a Tretinoin prescription check out Curology, an online skincare service that’s a remarkable and affordable alternative ($20 a month!) to traditional dermatology. I’m currently using Curology for anti-aging treatments and I can’t sing it’s praises high enough; Paula’s Choice Resist 1% Retinol Booster, The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%
Now that you’ve determined what’s best for you, you may be wondering how all of your new favorites will fit into your skincare routine. Here is a super helpful guide that will show you how and when to incorporate acids should you choose a serum. When applying skin products it’s best to start with thinner consistencies and work your way up to the thicker textures. If you opt for a peel or mask, those can typically be done 1-2 times a week or at your leisure. As always, because effective acids are very much an investment, get those samples. Give them a test run before you buy. Beauty isn’t one size fits all, but it’s totally worth the time spent. Now go forth and slather your face in acids. It’s the best decision you’ll make besides paying your rent and feeding yourself.