It might sound risky to apply acids to your skin, but the right ones can remedy issues like breakouts, dry patches, and discoloration. Dr. Kally Papantoniou, a New York-based dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital, is an expert in all-things acid—especially alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and hyaluronic acid—and she's the first to admit that it can be difficult to determine what's good and what's not on the market. "With so many acids in skin-care products it may not be clear whether you should be using any of them in your daily routine," she says. "You have to listen to your skin—we're all different."
Read Dr. Papantoniou's tips below, then visit your dermatologist to confirm which acids are right for you!
Includes: Salicylic acid
Good For: Acne-prone and oily skin
The Rundown: "Salicylic acid is a great choice for acne-prone skin because of its ability to penetrate oil and pores for deeper treatment," Dr. Papantoniou says. "It also exfoliates and rejuvenates skin."
Includes: Lactic acid, glycolic acid, and citric acid
Good For: Dull and hyperpigmented skin
The Rundown: To curb signs of aging, integrate an AHA into your lineup. "These acids are found in natural sources such as sour milk, sugar cane, and citrus fruits," Dr. Papantoniou says. AHAs exfoliate and help the skin better absorb other topical treatments.
Good For: Dry skin
The Rundown: Hyaluronic acid, which is used to hydrate skin, could be considered less acidic than the others. "Hyaluronic acid is a long-chain sugar molecule and is naturally found in our skin," Dr. Papantoniou says. "It holds 1,000 times its weight in water and has a neutral pH."
Tips for Use
For the Millionth Time: Wear Sunscreen!
When using products that contain acid, make sure you're keeping up with your sun-care routine. "AHA and BHA products can make skin more sensitive to the sun and can increase the risk of sunburn," Dr. Papantoniou says. "It's paramount that sun protection is used every day to maintain results and prevent damage."
Wearing SPF is especially important if you're also using retinol (an anti-aging ingredient) with these BHA/AHA treatments—in that case, Dr. Papantoniou recommends using AHA/BHA products in the morning and retinol in the evening.
Layer Acids With Other Products
Since the acids are part of your routine, they're safe to use along with other skin-care products. (Some products even have both AHAs and BHAs to balance skin.) "You can include a skin brightener in your regimen such as Skinceuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector," Dr. Papantoniou says. She also suggests following up AHAs/BHAs with a hyaluronic acid serum or cream because of their ability to hydrate skin cells and soften fine lines.
Keep Tabs on Your Skin
While someone with oilier skin can withstand AHA/BHA application every day, the acids can over-dry and irritate normal and combination skin. Dr. Papantoniou recommends using the products two to three times per week. As for hyaluronic acid, its moisturizing properties make it safe for daily use.