Beauty acids

Gly­colic and sal­i­cylic are com­mon. But phytic acid? Tar­taric? These lesser-known play­ers can have a ma­jor im­pact on clar­ity and ra­di­ance. Meet the new stand­outs.

Shape (Malaysia) - - Contents - By Genevieve Mon­sma

When was in­tro­duced in the early 1990s, it was revo­lu­tion­ary for skin care. Known as an al­pha hy­droxy acid (AHA), it was the first over-the-counter ac­tive in­gre­di­ent you could use at home to ac­cel­er­ate dead-skin-cell slough­ing and re­veal the fresher, smoother, plumper skin un­der­neath. Later we learned that the sug­ar­cane de­riv­a­tive could also stim­u­late your skin’s col­la­gen pro­duc­tion. Then came sal­i­cylic acid, a beta hy­droxy acid ( BHA) that could dis­solve se­bum build-up deep in­side pores and act like an anti-in­flam­ma­tory, mak­ing it good for red, ir­ri­tated, ac­ned skin. As a re­sult, gly­colic acid be­came the gold stan­dard for anti-age­ing and sal­i­cylic acid be­came an anti-acne dar­ling. That re­mained largely un­changed un­til re­cently. Now some skin-care prod­ucts con­tain lesser-known acids like man­delic, phytic, tar­taric, and lac­tic. Why the ad­di­tions? “I think of gly­colic and sal­i­cylic acids as the lead ac­tors in a play and these other acids as the sup­port­ing cast. When they all work to­gether, they can im­prove the pro­duc­tion,” says Shape Brain Trust mem­ber Dr. Neal Schultz, a New York City der­ma­tol­o­gist.

These sup­port­ing play­ers im­prove ef­fi­cacy for two rea­sons. First, while most acids aid in ex­fo­li­a­tion, “each does at least one ad­di­tional ben­e­fi­cial thing for the skin,” says NYC der­ma­tol­o­gist Dr. Den­nis Gross. These in­clude boost­ing hy­dra­tion, fight­ing free rad­i­cals, and help­ing sta­bilise a for­mula so it lasts longer.

The sec­ond rea­son is that us­ing mul­ti­ple acids at a lower con­cen­tra­tion ( in­stead of one at a high con­cen­tra­tion) may make a for­mula less ir­ri­tat­ing. “Rather than adding one acid at 20 per­cent, I pre­fer to add four acids at 5 per­cent to achieve sim­i­lar re­sults with less chance of caus­ing red­ness,” Dr. Gross says. So what spe­cific ben­e­fits do these up-and-com­ers of­fer? We break it down:

Man­delic acid

This is an es­pe­cially large mol­e­cule, so it does not pen­e­trate the skin deeply. “That makes it bet­ter for sen­si­tive types be­cause shal­lower pen­e­tra­tion means lower risk of ir­ri­ta­tion,” Dr. Gross says. Renée Rouleau, a celebrity aes­theti­cian in Austin, says this AHA can also help “sup­press the pro­duc­tion of ex­cess pig­ment.” With one caveat. “Man­delic acid helps im­prove ex­fo­li­a­tion and lower the risk of ir­ri­ta­tion when com­bined with gly­colic, lac­tic, or sal­i­cylic, but it’s prob­a­bly not enough of a power player to ex­ist in a prod­uct alone.”

Lac­tic acid

It has been around for a long time—Cleopa­tra used spoiled milk in her baths around 40 BCE be­cause the milk’s nat­u­ral lac­tic acid helped slough away rough skin—but has never achieved gly­colic-level fame be­cause it’s not quite as strong, which can be a good thing. Lac­tic is a large mol­e­cule, so it’s an ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive for sen­si­tive types, and un­like man­delic, it’s po­tent enough to be a lead player in a prod­uct. Dr. Gross ex­plains that lac­tic acid also bonds to the top layer of skin and stim­u­lates it to make ce­ramides, which help keep mois­ture in and ir­ri­tants out.

Malic acid

Sourced pri­mar­ily from ap­ples, this AHA of­fers some of the same an­ti­ag­ing ben­e­fits as lac­tic acid, but “it’s con­sid­er­ably more mild,” says Dr. De­bra Jal­i­man, a New York City der­ma­tol­o­gist. When added as a sup­port­ing in­gre­di­ent in a for­mula that con­tains stronger acids like lac­tic, gly­colic, and sal­i­cylic, it aids gen­tle ex­fo­li­a­tion and ce­ramide stim­u­la­tion.

Aze­laic acid

Nei­ther an AHA nor a BHA, aze­laic acid, de­rived from wheat, rye, or bar­ley, “has both an­tibac­te­rial and anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties, mak­ing it an ef­fec­tive treat­ment for acne or rosacea,” says Dr. Jeremy Brauer, a New York der­ma­tol­o­gist. It treats both by de­scend­ing into fol­li­cles, killing any bac­te­ria in­side them and quelling the in­flam­ma­tion caused by in­fec­tion. Aze­laic acid can also “stop the cre­ation of ex­cess melanin re­spon­si­ble for dark spots, freck­les, and un­even patches on the skin,” Dr. Jal­i­man says. It’s ap­pro­pri­ate for darker skin (un­like hy­dro­quinone and some lasers) be­cause there’s no risk of hypo- or hy­per­pig­men­ta­tion, and it’s ap­proved for preg­nant and nurs­ing women. That’s a huge plus be­cause “so many women have is­sues with melasma and break­outs around preg­nancy,” Dr. Jal­i­man says.

Phytic acid

An­other acid that is nei­ther an AHA nor a BHA, this out­lier is an an­tiox­i­dant, so it helps fend off skin-age­ing free rad­i­cals. It can also pre­vent black­heads and shrink pores. “Phytic acid works by gob­bling up cal­cium, which is no­to­ri­ously bad for the skin,” Dr. Gross says. “Cal­cium con­verts your skin’s oil from a fluid to a wax, and it’s the thicker wax that builds up in­side pores, lead­ing to black­heads and stretch­ing out pores so they ap­pear larger.”

Tar­taric acid

This AHA comes from fer­mented grapes and is added to gly­colic or lac­tic acid for­mu­las to strengthen their slough­ing. But its pri­mary ben­e­fit is its abil­ity to reg­u­late a for­mula’s pH level. “Acids are no­to­ri­ous for mor­ph­ing pHs, and if they swing too high or too low in a prod­uct, the re­sult is skin ir­ri­ta­tion,” Rouleau says. “Tar­taric acid can help keep things sta­ble.”

Cit­ric acid

Sim­i­lar to tar­taric, cit­ric acid, an AHA found pri­mar­ily in lemons and limes, also keeps other acids within a safe pH range. Ad­di­tion­ally, it acts as a preser­va­tive, en­abling skin-care for­mu­las to stay fresher longer. Fi­nally, cit­ric acid is a chela­tor, which means it elim­i­nates ir­ri­tat­ing im­pu­ri­ties (from air, wa­ter, and heavy met­als) on the skin. “Cit­ric acid grabs onto these im­pu­ri­ties so that they can­not en­ter your skin,” Dr. Gross says. “I like to think of it as skin’s Pac-Man.”

RA­DI­ANCE BOOST Once or twice a week, slough away dead cells to re­veal fresh skin with the triple-acid mix in First Aid Beauty Fa­cial Ra­di­ance In­ten­sive Peel (RM197,

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