The Low Down on Acid…
Now before you start tripping out and grabbing your Austin Powers fancy dress costume from the closet…
I’m talking about a few of the good acids like AHAs, BHAs and Retinoids…. this is after all, a skin care blog.
Acids, while sounding like they could be chemically bad, are actually pretty darn good… but before you run off and dunk your head in a bowl of battery acid and burn your face off, let me clarify which ones are far better suited for your skin.
AHA’s … Ahhh, the sweetheart of acids, Alpha Hydroxy Acids.
AHA’s is the name of a group of acids that naturally occur in our food. Yup... natural derivatives from food. That's gotta be good for you already.
Different forms of AHA’s are: Glycolic Acid – found in Sugar Cane, Lactic Acid – found in sour milk (think Cleopatra bathing in a tub filled with it) Malic Acid – found in apples, Tartaric Acid – found in grapes, Citric Acid – found in citrus fruit flesh, (not citrus skin) and Mandelic Acid – found in almonds.
Chemistry. They are called Alpha Hydroxy because they have a hydroxyl group (_OH) attached to the alpha carbon. After this commonality, they differ greatly in their chemical structure and molecular weight. The larger the carbon structure after the alpha carbon, the higher the molecular weight of the AHA and the lower the penetration potential. Glycolic having the smaller molecular structure and therefore able to penetrate more. Lactic Acid has a much larger molecule so isn't as strong.
Yeah yeah, but what do all these acids do? Get on with the making you look younger, brighter bit, right?
Well, while mechanical exfoliants i.e. sugar, salt, ground nut shells, (please don't ever use these) microbeads, spores, ground rice bran etc. will slough off rough dead surface skin cells, AHA’s facilitate the desquamation and shedding of cells by eating away at the ‘glue like’ cohesion at the lower levels of the stratum corneum. The result is a thinner, more compact better formed top layer of skin.
Note that this doesn’t affect the living epidermis cells just below that surface, which actually becomes thicker and healthier because of increased moisture retention ability. The result, you get a brighter, tighter, younger looking skin.
AHA's and Skin Types. Use a glycolic if you are a normal/ combo or oily skin type, with signs of pigmentation and don't have sensitivities, wheras a Lactic is gentler and is suitable for drier or more sensitive skin types. Lactic Acid is also a humectant and will provide hydration.
Using an acid in your routine will help prep the skin to better receive other nutrititional benefits from luscious serums.
BHA’s or Beta Hydroxy Acids. Include the most commonly known, Salicylic Acid. It is an organic acid derived from salicin, originally extracted from the white willow tree.
BHA Vs AHA. BHA’s act differently than AHA’s. BHA’s work on individual cells and AHA’s work on clusters of cells.
AHA’s work from the bottom up of the accumulated dead cell build up , BHA’s work from the top down. AHA’s are water soluble, BHA’s are fat soluble and therefore can penetrate into the follicular pore, helping to exfoliate from inside the pore as well as on the skins surface.
This makes them more effective for reducing blemishes, blackheads and whiteheads. Because of it’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties it’s also a good ingredient for acne treatments.
Hyaluronic Acid is not an AHA or BHA, rather it is found naturally in our own body, present in the dermis and epidermis and is a vital element in skin moisturization. This acid does not eat away the glue like cohesion, instead it helps retain moisture in the skin. Hyaluronic acid levels diminish with age therefore reducing the skins ability to retain moisture so our skin naturally dries out as we age. This powerhouse acid can retain approx 1000+ times its own weight in water. Look for a product with this precious super acid in it and your skin will love you.
Retinoids refer to Vitamin A and its derivatives. These chemicals affect many intercellular processes, including improving cell growth, collagen formation and they help repair sun damage. Their use in cosmetics is based on cellular receptors for retinoic acid and cell binding protein in retinol.
Although retinoid acid is the strongest and is a dermatologist prescribed medication, it is the most effective anti-aging ingredient and has profound benefits. Yay…!
The downside? – It can also be highly irritating and cause skin dryness and flakiness. This should only last short term, however for reactions lasting longer than 1 week, I’d stop using them.
Respect the Mighty. Treat all of these acids with the respect they deserve as to what they can do for the health and well-being of your skin.
It doesn't have to be harsh to be effective. Even adding a 5%-10% acid toner to your daily routine will give your skin a glow over time.
But for those DIYers, please don't put lemon juice directly onto your face undiluted, unless you want a chemical burn. Lemon juice on its own is very acidic with a pH of around 2, which will strip off your acid mantle if used directly onto skin. That will cause all kinds of problems, including increased pigmentation, dry skin, sensitized skin, breakouts, If you're going to come on an acid trip, do it safely.
New to acid? stick to the most common formualtions that have glycolic and lactic in them.
Lifestyle. While they are mighty, they aren’t miracle workers, you need to do your bit too, by following some basic skin care rules; Get enough water, sleep, exercise, eat clean, nutritious food, stop smoking, keep booze to a minimum and get rid of stress…
A proper hygiene and skin care routine is a must too… Cleanse, tone, use nutritional serums, and moisturize daily.
Don’t over wash your skin, don’t use soap, it’s very drying and upsets the PH balance of your skin. Keep your hands off your face as much as possible.
Seek out the services of a good skin care therapist… eeerm, that would be me, and treat yourself to a deep cleansing, hydrating, balancing facial at least once a month.
Gently Does It. Acids may cause irritation and redness when you first start using them, but this is normal. Depending on your skin type and the condition of your skin. Some people will react differently than others. Some will be fine after the first few days of use, some may need to phase the use of these products in. Perhaps use them once every 3 days instead of every day to build up a tolerance. Gently does it. Be kind to your skin, it’s got a big job to do. It protects us from bacteria, it keeps us warm, it cools us down, it holds all our bits and pieces together in a nice tight package. It is a living breathing thing, with rights… it will let you know when it’s irritated, listen to it.
Acid and the Sun. Using Acids on your skin as long as they are formulated properly, and used correctly is considered safe and will certainly help you achieve better looking and functioning skin. However, they will also increase sun sensitivity. It is crucial that you always wear sunblock of at least 30 SPF when incorporating them into your skin care program. There is no point in getting your lovely bright new skin cells, if the sun is going to get at them and burn the hell out of them.
Caution: Acids should not be used at all if the following conditions are present: Active herpes, Recent radiation therapy, Recent Surgery or wounds, Recent Accutane (Acne medication. Must be off Accutane for a period of 6 months before any acid products to be used) Open wounds or sores, Irritated skin, Allergies or other sensitivities. Not to be used on eyelids or directly under the eyes. Those that are allergic to aspirin should also steer clear of salicylic acid too, as this is one of the main components in aspirin.
People that have any resurfacing treatments like Microdermabrasion or Chemical Peels should cease using products with acids in them at least 2 weeks prior to treatment and wait at least at least 2 weeks until after treatments to reassume using them.
Myth - You shouldn't use AHA's if you're using Retinol.
Fact - Yes you can. Just not layered together. Acid in the AM - Retinol in the PM only.
Most acids on the market are around 5% - 10% potency and most Retinol will be around 0.5 - 1%. Some will be lower.
Use your acid toner in the morning, followed by a Vit C serum and your moisturizer.
Evening - after cleansing, apply your Retinol and then your serums and night-time moisturizer. As with anything, build up this until your skin can tolerate it without causing sensitivity. (depending on the formulation and the % strength, some tingling may be expected.
Know the difference between a Tingle and a Burn. A tingle is present for a few seconds and will dissipate after a minute or so.
A burn will cause a heated reaction, a redness and your skin will feel hot the touch.
EFA’s – Essential Fatty Acids. YUM… eat them, or get these in the form of a supplement and make them work from the inside out. Through the winter months when my skin feels a little dry stressed, I’ll apply a few drops of organic rosehip oil as a serum under my daily moisturizer and treat myself to a deep moisturizing Omega treatment under a hydration masque once a week. I take an Omega + D3 vitamin daily and sprinkle hemp seeds or flax seeds on salads regularly. Can’t say enough about the need for EFA’s, but that’s a whole other topic...