Ruth Griffin: acid-based skincare
Your jargon-busting guide to using acid-based skincare for a killer complexion
Does skincare jargon sometimes just seem like a whole different language to you? It often does for me, even as an ex-model and a current beauty writer.
Take, for example, when I'm shopping around for exfoliator (which also has a never-ending array of synonyms: skin polisher, skin resurfacer, skin smoother, skin peeler…), I am faced with a litany of complicated catogories and confusing descriptions - AHAs, BHAs, PHAs and TCAs - from which to choose. These are particularly scary-sounding and off-putting terms, considering that all of the above are acid-based products.
As unappealing as it may seem to voluntarily use an acid on your skin, it is actually a super-efficient, effective and safe way to smooth your complexion and nibble away at dead and dying grey skin cells. It is also an alternative to using often rough granulated exfoliators. Acids are categorised into different 'families' and lots of the ones used in commercial skincare are naturally derived from plants, milk and fungi (see glossary below).
What many women don't realise, though, is that acids are not only used as exfoliators but also as skin hydrators, in the form of the amazing hyaluronic acid - an element that occurs naturally in our bodies - which is unmatched in its ability to hold moisture in our skin.
Read on to demystify the sometimes very confusing world of acid-based skincare. The absolute golden rule when using acids in your skincare regime is that you MUST use an SPF moisturiser every day, as acids may cause your skin to become photosensitive. But fear not, I promise you will not end up looking like Samantha after her disastrous peel in Sex and the City!
* At 48 years old (yes, really), Jennifer Aniston has skin a woman half her age would kill for. The secret to her gorgeous, natural-looking complexion? She’s a fan of regular facial treatments and using chemical peels to renew her skin cycle, and she’s an ambassador for Aveeno skincare
Treat vs Cheat
Yana Daily Collagen Shots
A month's supply of a skin vitamin shot jam-packed with skin-plumping hyaluronic acid, Image stockists nationwide and renaissance-skincare.com
LQ Liquid Skin, Hair & Nails
For a less expensive hyaluronic acid boost from the inside out, try this, from Holland & Barrett. NB: Consult your doctor before taking any supplements
6 of the best acid-based skincare
● The magic moisturiser With glycolic and maltobionic acid and lots of lovely collagen, NeoStrata's Cellular Restoration, €67, is a treat for exhausted, deadened skin that maybe hasn't seen some TLC in a while!
This is also a particularly good option for more mature skin, from pharmacies nationwide.
● The brilliant Brightener Kiehl's Clearly Corrective Brightening and Smoothing Moisture Treatment, €53, uses a seemingly odd mixture of glycolic acid (which is rarely used in moisturisers) and activated C, a high-performance vitamin C derivative.
This is both a wonderful skin brightener and an excellent skin smoother, especially good for pigmented skin. But be sure to use an SPF with this product! From department stores/Kiehl's stores nationwide.
● The clever Cleanser Slick on Transformulas Miracle Daily Glycol Priming Cleanser - an acid-based (glycolic and lactic) cleanser to prep your skin - and you'll see amped-up efficacy from your serums and moisturiser.
Applied with cotton wool, this brilliantly priced option - boasting the extra benefit of witch hazel - provides an excellent anchor to help your products penetrate deeper into the layers of your skin, €25, transformulas.com
● The great Hydrator Hyaluronic acid (which occurs naturally in our bodies and gives skin its 'full' appearance) begins to decline in our 20s. As we age, our production of this acid decreases, leading to loose, sagging skin. Even at peak production, hyaluronic acid depletes by up to 50pc over the course of a day! This causes shadows, fine lines and dullness. By age 50, the severity of hyaluronic acid loss manifests in deepening wrinkles, jowls and crow's feet, skin laxity and uneven texture.
To the rescue comes this little gem from SkinCeuticals. The new H. A. Intensifier increases our skin's own hyaluronic acid levels by 30pc, €91, from selected salons/dermatologists and skinceuticals.co.uk
● The super skin Plumper Image Ageless Total Pure Hyaluronic Filler, €71, is a highly concentrated and botanically derived hyaluronic serum that plumps skin and boosts moisture levels, suitable for all skin types.
With quite high levels of hyaluronic acid (18pc), this smooths and plumps beautifully. Use under your normal moisturiser. Added apricot oil provides welcome additional hydration and aroma-therapy benefits. For stockists, see renaissance-skincare.com
● The perfect (DIY) peel Try Lancôme's Visionnaire Crescendo Progressive Night Peel at home for a salon-worthy DIY treatment that nibbles away at dead skin cells overnight. This is applied under your normal moisturiser in a two-phase routine.
For the first fortnight, apply the first phase peel (with 5pc AHA) to prep the skin for the second phase, which consists of 10pc salicylic and glycolic acid and jasmonates (which help promote stimulation of hyaluronic acid), €75, from pharmacies and department stores. nationwide
Glossary of acid-based skincare
To help you decipher the sometimes mind-boggling jargon that goes hand in hand with acid-based products, here is a list of the most commonly used acids you'll find in commercial skincare items, outlining their origins - as well as how and when to use them…
Exfoliant acid family
Used to exfoliate the skin - aka, skin polishing, skin peels, skin resurfacing and skin smoothing
AHAs - alpha hydroxy acids
These occur naturally in fruits, sugar and milk.
• Citric acid (derived from fruits)
• Glycolic acid (derived from sugar cane)
• Lactic acid (derived from milk - great for sensitive skin)
• Mandelic acid (derived from bitter almonds - more gentle than glycolic acid)
• Kojic acid (derived from fungi - used as a skin- lightening agent, especially good for age spots)
BHAs (beta hydroxy acids)
These are chemically derived acids used for skin polishing. These can sink deep into the skin.
• Salicylic acid - the most commonly used BHA
PHAs (polyhydroxy acids)
These are the same family as AHAs but more gentle; they're excellent for sensitive skin.
• Lactobionic acid (derived from milk)
• Gluconic acid (naturally occurs in our cells)
Used to guard the skin.
• Ascorbic acid - another name for vitamin C
• Ferulic acid - this antioxidant is a plant-based acid and vital for sun-damaged skin
Acids are not only used for exfoliation - there are some acids that work as excellent skin moisturisers.
• Hyaluronic acid - occurs naturally in our bodies and is a key component of the skin. It plays an essential role in collagen, elastin and fibroblast organisation. It has, to date, an unmatched ability to retain water in the skin compared to other commonly used hydrating ingredients. It is found in many serums, boosters and moisturisers.