Acid. The word itself is as intimidating as Anna Wintour and the category more difficult to navigate than the roads of Sydney’s CBD.
However, the right acid—whether it be exfoliating, purifying, hydrating or regenerating—has the ability to transform good skin into jaw-dropping, amazing skin. Like, Miranda Kerr-level skin.
“Acids can be transformative with the capacity to yield magnificent results, however, they can also be destructive if not used correctly,” explains Melanie Grant, renowned facialist to the stars—including Gritty Pretty cover girl Phoebe Tonkin. “Every complexion is different. Although a particular ingredient may work wonderfully for your friend, sister or mother, it may not work for you.”
The good news? Once you find the right acids for your skin, there’s no turning back. To help you sort the must-haves from the maybe-nots, we’ve asked the experts to break down azelaic to hyaluronic (and everything in between).
A next-gen group of acids, PHAs (real name: polyhydroxy acids) have a multitude of skin benefits: they exfoliate, encourage cell turnover and hydrate.
“PHAs are the most gentle in the exfoliating acid family,” explains Grant. “They are suitable for more sensitive skin types as the molecular size is larger, resulting in slower penetration at a more surface level.” Translation? PHA-based products slowly dissolve the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin to our face and body—meaning the likelihood of a reaction is much lower than with other, faster-moving acids (glycolic acid, we’re looking at you).
PHAs—including gluconolactone, lactobionic acid and galactose—are “perfect for drier skin types” says Grant, as they promote hydration and attract moisture to the skin. Our favourite product? Ole Henriksen PHAT Glow Facial.
Got milk? Lactic acid is an (underappreciated) AHA that brings the glow by gently exfoliating dead cells on the surface of the skin. “Lactic acid is a hydroxy acid derived from sour milk,” says Dr. Hkeik. “It dissolves the bonds that hold skin cells together but is also extremely hydrating; it is anti-inflammatory with antibacterial properties as well.” According to Dr. Hkeik, lactic acid is suitable for all skin types.
Lactic acid could be the most hydrating chemical exfoliant: it boosts the level of ceramides—hydrating lipids—that sit on the skin’s surface and increases water retention. However, gentle as it might be, use with caution. “Though lactic acid is on the gentle end of the spectrum, like any acid, you should be careful of overuse,” says Grant. “Personally, I love a low-strength lactic acid peel for instant radiance.” Our holy grail is the ever-popular Sunday Riley Good Genes.
For our full in-depth guide on skincare acids from A to azelaic…