understanding acids used in skin care hyaluronic exfoliating glycolic face mask peel lactic citric konjac

Understanding acids used in skincare

Written by: | July 3, 2017 | 5 responses

Acids and skincare don’t exactly sound like a good pair. However, acids encompass some of our favorite ingredients–things like Hyaluronic Acid, Glycolic Acid, and even Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)! Let’s delve in to how we can use them.

First of all, an important note: There are two different types of acids used in skincare; exfoliating acids and fatty acids. When used properly in your skincare routine you can see the benefits in the way your skin looks and feels.

Exfoliating Acids

Exfoliating acids help skin to look its best by removing dead skin cells and revealing a fresh complexion. There is some very clear science around how these acids work, however, in order to remain compliant with FDA rules, we are unable to discuss that here. Please do some simple research if you want to learn more about exactly how and why exfoliating acids are beneficial. Below, we have listed some of the most common types of exfoliating acids used in skincare.

Glycolic Acid: Glycolic acid is the smallest and most highly soluble of the alpha hydroxy acids making it especially efficacious in exfoliants and chemical peels. It reduces cell adhesion in the uppermost layer of the epidermis, promoting exfoliation of dead skin and cell replacement contributing to a smoother brighter complexion. Glycolic acid is the active ingredient in Essential’s popular Pumpkin Mask.

Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polymer found in connective, neural, and epithelial tissue in both animals and humans. Hyaluronic acid can hold about 1,000 times its weight in water. Because of its ability to hold water, HA is an easy choice when looking for an ingredient that will hold moisture when applied to the skin.

Lactic Acid: Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid manufactured by fermentation of non-GMO corn derived carbohydrates. Lactic acid is used in the formulation of cleansers, splashes, astringents, and moisturizers to enhance the appearance of dry or mature skin. Lactates are also effective humectants and buffering agents in soaps and wipes due to their excellent ability to attract and hold moisture within the skin.

Malic Acid: Malic acid is a fine white to off-white, fine granule powder. Malic acid is a member of the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) group and in skin care products it is often used as an active ingredient in exfoliants and chemical peels.

Kojic Acid: Originally discovered in several varieties of mushrooms, kojic acid is an off-white crystalline powder. A by-product of the fermentation process of malting rice, kojic acid helps as a preservative booster and works to preserve colors in formulations. Kojic acid also helps skin tone appear more even.

Citric Acid: Naturally occurring citric acid is a member of the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) group and in skin care products it is often used as an ingredient in exfoliants and chemical peels, such as Essential’s Alpha Hydroxy Liquid Bundle, but most often citric acid is used to adjust the pH in personal care products such as lotions, cremes, shampoos, etc.

Salicylic Acid: This beta-hydroxy acid is a powerful and effective exfoliant widely used for face peels and in products for less than perfect skin.  Salicylic acid must not be used above 2% in any cosmetic formulas and is considered more gentle than alpha-hydroxy acids.

Alpha Lipoic Acid: Alpha lipoic acid powder is is an organosulfur compound derived from octanoic acid and is naturally made in the human body. Often referred to as the “universal antioxidant”, it rivals vitamin C and E in its antioxidant effects.

Tartaric Acid: Tartaric acid is a fine, white to off-white, crystalline powder derived from grapes. Tartaric acid is a member of the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) group and in skin care products it is often used as an active ingredient in exfoliants and chemical peels

Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are critical building blocks in helping skin to appear hydrated, plump, and more youthful. Essential fatty acids are not produced by the body naturally so they must be eaten or applied directly to the skin. Non essential fatty acids are produced in the body, however, they can also be found in the environment and have great benefits in skincare.

Myristic Acid: Myristic acid is a non-toxic fatty acid that occurs naturally in some foods, such as animal fats and most vegetables. Nutmeg, palm oil, and coconut oil contain relatively high levels of myristic acid. The saturated fatty acid myristic acid has 14 carbon atoms. Myristic acid is used as a cleansing, surfactant and opacifying agent in cosmetics and personal care products.

Stearic Acid: 
A vegetable (castor) derivative used to stiffen and stabilize lotions and cremes. Stearic acid occurs naturally in the human body and vegetable fats.


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