Acids in Skincare Ingredients and How They Affect You

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In previous articles we discussed the biology of the skin layers (or epidermis) and the acid mantle. We learned the acid mantle is a very important part to skin health. It is what protects our topmost layer of skin from infection and intrusion of harmful bacteria. Now we discuss the more popular skincare acids in detail and how they are used.

Who would want to put acid on their face?

If you follow trends in skincare and skin products, you most likely have seen numerous references to ‘acids’ – names like, Alpha Hydroxy Acid, Glycolic Acid or Ascorbic Acid to name a few. While the term “acid” may seem harmful or irritating, when used in the proper products and in controlled amounts, it can actually heal and rejuvenate skin – much the same way the acid mantle protects it. The trick in proper skincare is to find the right balance between acid and alkaline maintenance of the skin.

You may not know exactly what these acids do for your skin and how they might help you. Understanding skincare ingredients is key to selecting the right products for your unique skin type and skin concerns.

Acids in Skincare Ingredients and How They Affect You

So, what are all these acid ingredients doing in your skincare and how are they beneficial?  Acids have become tremendously popular as anti-aging ingredients.  Let’s take a look at some of the more common or widely used acids in skincare today.

The Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

You may have heard the term “alpha hydroxy acid” whenever skin care is mentioned. Many skin care products today boast that they contain AHAs. Alpha Hydroxy Acids are naturally occurring acids, derived from the sugars in particular plants or fruits. Alpha hydroxy acid can include Glycolic, Citric, Lactic, Malic and Tartaric. These acids, when used correctly, can help to smooth the skin, enhance the effects of other skin rejuvenation treatments, keep problem skin under control, attract moisture to the skin, even texture and complexion of skin and reverse some of the effects of UV damage.

AHAs in skincare products help break up the “glue” that holds dead skin cells to the surface of the skin, exfoliating the epidermis and leaving a silky texture. Removing this external barrier enables partner skincare ingredients to deeper penetrate the skin, making them more effective. Using an AHA product can benefit dull, lifeless or uneven skin tone. AHA products are also great for softening rough elbows, knees, hands and feet.

Each AHA is derived from a different source. While the following AHA derivatives all share a similar molecular structure, they each perform a different function.

Glycolic Acid

Made from natural fruit acids (alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs) glycolic acid helps rejuvenate the skin by encouraging the shedding of old, sun-damaged surface skin cells. Due to its small molecular size, it retains an excellent capability to penetrate skin. Glycolic acid is most often used as a chemical peel in concentrations of 20 to 70% by dermatologists or at-home kits between 10 and 20%.

Once applied, glycolic acid reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis, weakening the binding properties of the lipids that hold the dead skin cells together. This allows the stratum corneum to be exfoliated, exposing live skin cells. Glycolic acid will dramatically improve skin texture and appearance and may also reduce wrinkles, acne scaring and hyperpigmentation. By reducing the surface skin oils, it can also help remove blackheads and other skin impurities.

Citric Acid
A powerful anti-oxidant used for collagen building, and skin bleaching, citric acid exists in a variety of fruits and vegetables, most notably citrus fruits. Lemons and limes have particularly high concentrations of the acid.  A skin rejuvenating AHA, Citric Acid, or Vitamin C, acts as an antioxidant as well as helps stimulate collagen fiber production within the dermis.  Citric acid has astringent and antioxidant properties, and is a natural preservative that helps to adjust the pH of skincare products. Citric acid can also bleach unwanted skin discolorations that accompany the aging process. Some pure Vitamin C powder formulations boast skin rejuvenation and antioxidant properties.

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid comes from sour milk and is an ideal skin softener frequently used by dermatologists to cut through thick, rough skin. It works both as an exfoliator as well as helping to hold water within the skin. Lactic acid may be combined with other AHAs to boost product effectiveness.

Malic Acid

Malic acid, an alpha hydroxy fruit acid, is a natural skin exfoliator. It is commonly used in skin care products to rejuvenate and improve skin conditions. Mandelic acid and malic acid are two alpha hydroxy acids increasingly used in skin care formulations where harsher acids or chemicals may irritate sensitive skin types. Malic acid can be found in apples, grapes, pears and bananas.

AHAs are safe when used with caution and according to directions. The amount of AHA in the product and the pH are the determining factors of a product’s strength and irritation you may experience. Remember, this is still an acid and too much can cause redness, irritation or burns. Medical strength AHAs start at a concentration of 8%. This is the baseline of where truly effective results will be noticeable.

If you use an AHA, pay attention to any reactions you have, and stop using the product immediately if you have any irritation at all. Reintroduce it slowly at lower concentrations or stop using it completely. It may also increase sensitivity to the sun, which increases your chances of skin cancer, so always wear sunscreen, cover your skin, or avoid direct sunlight when possible.

Amino Acids

Amino acid peptides comprise the latest entry into the skin rejuvenation scene. Amino acids are the chemical units or “building blocks” of the body that make up proteins.  Peptides consist of a small number of amino acids linked by a “peptide” bond. These bonds enhance cosmetic suitability and efficacy.

Collagen makes up 75% of our skin. As we age, the collagen- and elastin-producing cells known as fibroblasts, which keep skin tight and youthful, become less abundant and effective. One percent of the skin’s collagen is lost each year after the age of 40. This is where amino acid peptides come in, jump-starting lazy fibroblasts and encouraging new ones to return to the aging dermis.

Skincare treatments that contain amino acid peptides mimic the very end fragments that send out the distress signal to fibroblasts, chemically signaling skin to become firmer by stimulating collagen. Most amino acid peptides offer a non-irritating, non-drying, skin firming option for all skin types. And when formulated with other “friendly” anti-aging agents, can solve many of your skin rejuvenation needs.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

In cosmetics, the term beta hydroxy acid refers specifically to salicylic acid, which is used in some anti-aging creams and acne treatments. Beta hydroxy acids are simple organic acids found in nature or synthesized in the laboratory. They are somewhat different from alpha hydroxy acids in structure and mode of action. The difference here is called “lipid solubility,” aka a substance’s ability to dissolve in oil.

AHAs are water soluble, meaning they’re able to dissolve in water. BHAs, on the other hand, are lipid soluble, meaning they’re able to fully dissolve in oil (or fat).  This distinction makes BHAs better at penetrating pores. If you have oily skin, frequent blackheads or whiteheads, then products containing BHA will be your best choice. But if breakouts aren’t your big skin problem, and you’re looking for help dealing with sun damage or wrinkles, consider AHAs instead.

Alpha Lipoic Acid:

An antioxidant that is made by the body and is found in every cell It is both fat- and water-soluble. Antioxidants are depleted as they attack free radicals, but evidence suggests alpha-lipoic acid may help regenerate these other antioxidants and make them active again. In one small-scale study, high potency lipoic acid reduced mild-to-moderate wrinkles by up to 50 percent, whereas fine lines have almost disappeared. In another study, lipoic acid significantly improved the appearance of certain types of scars.

If further studies corroborate skin benefits of lipoic acid, it may become one of the mainstays of today’s anti-aging skin care. In fact, lipoic acid will be especially welcome in the family of proven wrinkle fighters because it is less irritating than tretinoin (Retin A, Renova) and hydroxy acids. It can be used, albeit in lower concentrations, in delicate and wrinkle prone area around the eyes.

Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C):

Also known as ascorbic acid, this antioxidant is known to aid cell repair and help to stop free radicals. When use topically, it may help reduce lines and wrinkles, promote healing, aid in the development of collagen, and can even increase your natural sun protection factor (SPF) to decrease sun damage. It is also a free-radical fighting anti-oxidant. It is no wonder that Vitamin C is a primary ingredient used to combat wrinkles and aging skin. Ascorbic Acid (or Vitamin C), is an essential nutrient found mainly in fruits and vegetables. The body requires it to form and maintain bones, blood vessels, and skin.

Used as an antioxidant in its L-ascorbic acid form, it can also have skin lightening effects in certain preparations. Ascorbic acid helps produce collagen, a protein needed to develop and maintain healthy skin and blood vessels. Ascorbic acid also promotes the healing of cuts, abrasions and wounds and helps fight infections. The Vivoderm Anti-Aging Mask and Anti-Acne Mask both contain Ascorbic Acid.

Hyaluronic Acid

A powerful humectant that draws moisture to the skin. Dry, damaged skin with a compromised lipid barrier will flake off more rapidly, resulting in excessive peeling. This can leave the surface of the skin more susceptible to bacterial infections and environmental damage. The added anti-irritation technologies and hyaluronic acid help heal the lipid barrier, improving the health of the skin and minimizing unnecessary, excessive peeling – without sacrificing results.

Sorbic Acid

Some acids may simply be included in your skincare as a preservative to keep the product fresh and to prevent spoiling. Not to be confused with Ascorbic Acid, Sorbic Acid is derived from the berries of the mountain ash tree and is an antimicrobial agent. Sorbic Acid has traditionally been used as a preservative for food and wine due to its ability to prevent spoilage caused by yeasts, fungi and molds, as well as some other bacteria. This unsaturated fatty acid is used primarily in the formulation of facial and eye makeup, skin care and hair products.

Stearic Acid

Stearic acid is the saturated fatty acid or waxy solid used as a hardening agent or lubricant. This acid helps make skincare creams and lotions “spreadable.” This ingredient can be derived from animals or vegetables. Stearic acid can be found in many vegetable fats, such as coconut or cocoa butter.

Even More Acids

As you can see there are many, many types of acids and acid derivatives to be used in skincare. Here are a few other acids you might encounter in your skincare regimens:

  • Alum: a chemical compound, usually used in crystal or powder form, it has strong astringent properties and is found in aftershaves, toners, deodorants and depilatory waxes. It is also sometimes applied to cuts to prevent or treat infection.
  • Cyclic Acid: A new term for Hyaluronic Acid, a strong hydrating complex that holds 1000 times the water in skin.
  • Ellagic Acid: Present in many red fruits and berries. This naturally occurring ingredient helps to inhibit the formation of sun and age spots. Ellagic acid has antioxidant, anti-mutagen and anti-cancer properties.
  • Kojic Acid: is primarily used to lighten freckles and other dark spots on the skin.
  • Linoleic Acid: Research points to linoleic acid’s anti-inflammatory, acne reductive, and moisture retentive properties when applied topically on the skin. Often referred to it as Vitamin F, it can be found in most vegetable oils such as safflower and grape seed.
  • Panthothenic Acid: helps to increase moisture content in the hair and skin.
  • Poly Hydroxy Acid: PHAs are really AHAs that do not penetrate quite as deeply into the skin. Gluconolactone and lactobionic acid are two acids that lift tired, dead skin, but because their molecules are larger than the AHAs, they do not penetrate as deeply.
  • Salicylic Acid: Made from the bark of the willow tree and classified as a BHA (beta hydroxy acid), it is medically used as an exfolliant and debriding agent and cosmetically used in some chemical peels and to treat many skin disorders, such as acne, dandruff, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis of the skin and scalp.

The Vivoderm Natural Skincare line uses the following acids:  Stearic Acid, Lactic Acid and Sorbic Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C). They can be found in these products:

Body Butter: Stearic Acid, Lactic Acid and Sorbic Acid

Zinc Cream: Stearic Acid  and Sorbic Acid

Anti-Acne Mask + Anti-Aging Mask: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C),

Facial Cleanser: Sorbic Acid

Intense Moisturizer: Stearic Acid and Sorbic Acid

Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream: Stearic Acid and Sorbic Acid

Foot Cream: Stearic Acid and Sorbic Acid

Author: Rachelle Dupree

Vivoderm Marketing and Communications

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