Though they sound like the last thing you'd want on your skin, acids can actually be your complexion's saving grace; their exfoliating and plumping powers are pretty potent - if you use them wisely.

Thanks to brands like {Alpha H}, {Pixi} and {The Ordinary} people are learning more about the benefits and even mixing and matching to tailor their acid regime to suit their particular concerns. Acids work wonders on a number of issues: scarring, blemishes, pigmentation, dullness, collagen-boosting and even hydration - the list is endless. 

But don't go overboard - these are still acids, designed to be abrasive and can lead to sensitisation, dryness and irritation if you're not careful. Start off using acid-based products twice a week, especially if you have sensitive skin. Plus you're more vulnerable to sun exposure after using this type of product - so it's best to apply them at night, or follow up with a broad spectrum sunscreen afterwards. 

The best thing about them - you should see a radiant glow almost immediately - we do love a product we can see working straight away. Here are the ones you should be stocking up with.


Think of these acids as a twice or thrice-weekly gym session for your complexion, putting pores through their paces and kick-starting collagen production. The big hitters in this category are alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs. These work by dissolving the "glue" that holds dead cells together, which shed at microscopic level. You may not be able to actually see it, but you'll usually feel a 'tingle' when you apply them (and by 'tingle' we don't mean searing, excruciating pain, this is NEVER a good sign). Also it lowers the skin's pH level (from 5.5. to around 3), which sends a message to the dermis (i.e. "Ground Control") to speed up cell renewal, so your complexion is left with a renewed, post-facial glow for its troubles. While the beta hydroxy acid (BHA) salicylic (more on that below) works in a similar way but goes deep into the pores to keep blemishes at bay.

(A hefty dose of both of these acids can be found in Dr. Dennis Gross's {Alpha Beta Peel Original Formula} treatment pads, perfect if your dull skin needs a complete rejuvenation overhaul, while Omorovicza's new {Acid Fix} is another amazing AHA/BHA skin resurfacer.)

Here are three AHA/BHAs you'll probably come across the most:


Sourced from sugar cane, this is like the Ferrari of AHAs. One of the most effective acids on the market, at a mollecular level, it's the smallest of all the 'alphas' making its ability to penetrate the skin second-to-none. In short - it gets the job done. It's the star ingredient in {Alpha H's} iconic night treatment {Liquid Gold}, one of the first products to pioneer its use in skin care.


Usually derived from milk (but there are synthetic versions for better stability) this works in the same way as glycolic but is slightly milder, so ideal for you sensitive skin types. Lactic acid also helps boost hydration and skin brightness in the bargain. It headlines in {Sunday Riley's} legendary {Good Genes} serum, a concoction renowned by Insta's skin care set for its skin-plumping prowess.


Known as a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) and the only one there is come to that. It's often used to treat acne and blemishes, as it can be absorbed deeper into the pores instead of just exfoliating at surface level, clearing them out of dead skin and gunk (where bacteria just love to make mischief). Get your salicylic fix with {Indie Lee's Blemish Stick}. Just pop it on over a pesky zit and leave it to work its magic. For more serious skin issues, it double-teams with sulphur in Kate Somerville's famous {EradiKate Acne Treatment} to help banish red angry nodules.


The below AHA acids tend to have less skin-sloughing clout than glycolic and lactic, but work well when used in conjunction with them (think of these as "The Supremes" in a formulation, while glycolic/lactic/salicylic is "Diana Ross"...)


This helps decrease the production of melanin, making it great for hyperpigmentation. You can find it in the {Refining Facial Polish} from sought-after facialist {Su-Man}.


A fruit-derived acid, it's often used as an "extra" to up a product's exfoliating ante. It joins a chorus of other AHAs in {REN's Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal}


Derived from bitter almonds, it's a good choice for oily/spot-prone skin, as it's anti-bacterial (to help blitz blemish-causing bacteria) and reduces sebum, so that shiny forehead will hopefully be a thing of the past. Find it in {DHL's Multi-Action Penta Peel}.


A few other acids you might stumble upon...

Azeliac Acid

If you're already know your glycolics from your salicylics, this is a more "underground" acid to have on your radar. This yeast-derived delight is said to work wonders on acne and rosecea due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, in addition to evening skin tone. {The Ordinary} have harnessed it in their brightening and retexturising {Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%}, which is a good one to impress your "skintellectual" mates with.


Poly Hydroxy Acids (PHAs) are currently less commonly used than AHAs, but work pretty much the same way. Because the molecules are larger than AHAs, they work on a slightly slower scale, allowing for less irritation or tingling sensation (making them good for sensitive skin). Working to repair skin from sun and UV damage, as well as helping to restore the skin barrier, the most common ones are gluconolactone, maltobionic and lactobionic - the latter of which crops up in {Omorovicza's Blue Diamond Resurfacing Peel}.

And one last word of warning: be careful layering different products if some contain acids - as they can work against each other and make each other's ingredients less effective. For example, Vitamin C and retinol don't tend to play nicely with many of the above acids - so any product featuring them should be avoided if you've already applied an acid to your skin. (Click here to read more about which skin care products shouldn't mix.)