Citric Acid

Citric acid is a weak organic acid that is used in personal care products to adjust the acidity or promote skin peeling and re-growth in the case of anti-aging products.


Citric acid is widely found in both plants and animals, particularly in citrus fruits, which is what gives these fruits their characteristic acidic taste. One example is lemon juice, which contains about 5 to 8 percent citric acid. Citric acid was first isolated in 1784 by the chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who crystallized it from lemon juice.

Interestingly, more than a million tons of citric acid are manufactured each year. There are many uses of this ingredient, including as an acidifer, as a flavoring, and chelating agent. Because it is one of the stronger edible acids, the dominant use of citric acid is as a flavoring and preservative in food and beverages, especially soft drinks and candies.

Citric acid is also well known for its use in cosmetics and personal care products. According to the 2016 U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program (VCRP), citric acid was used in almost every category of cosmetic product with over 10,000 reported uses.


Citric acid functions as an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) in skin care products. AHAs are a class of chemical compounds that consist of a carboxylic acid (-COOH) substituted with a hydroxyl group (-OH) on the adjacent carbon (the alpha position). AHAs can be naturally derived from fruit and milk sugars (like citric acid from citrus fruits) or they can be synthetically produced.

AHAs are well known for their use in the skin care industry as they have been proven to reduce signs of aging, such as wrinkles, lines, and dark spots. AHAs have also been found to stimulate collagen production. A study published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery determined that AHA treatments increase the production of collagen and fibroblast proliferation both in vivo and in vitro. Collagen is found within the dermal layer of skin and it is responsible for keeping the skin smooth and firm. When the skin is stimulated to produce more collagen, fine lines and wrinkles are filled in.

According to skin care expert Paula Begoun, citric acid is also used to adjust the pH of formulations in order to prevent them from being too alkaline. The pH of cosmetics and skin care products is important because the skin’s normal pH is slightly acidic (between 4 and 6). On one hand, if a product is too acidic it may irritate the skin or cause a stinging sensation. On the other hand, a product that is too alkaline is detrimental because it depletes your skin of vital, natural fats (or “lipids”).

Despite these benefits, there are some side effects to using AHAs. A 2018 article published in the scholarly journal Molecules states that as a class, AHAs can cause swelling, burning, and itching after topical applications. Another common side effect of AHAs is photosensitivity. Since AHAs remove dead skin and some of the upper layers of skin, you may sunburn easily from very little sun exposure or from using a tanning bed.

How citric acid benefits the skin

Citric acid treatments can brighten skin, shrink pores, treat mild acne, and correct dark spots and fine lines. When applied to skin, citric acid exfoliates the top layers of skin and sloughs off dead skin cells. Additionally, the speed of new cell turnover increases, which promotes new skin growth that can help alleviate the appearance of age spots, acne scars, small wrinkles and areas of uneven tone and texture. Of note, research on the ability of citric acid to exfoliate the skin examined much higher concentrations (20% for example) than are used in skin care products.


The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel reviewed scientific literature and data on the safety of citric acid and its salts and ester in 2014. This data revealed that at concentrations used in cosmetics and personal care products, citric acid and its salts and esters were not eye irritants, nor did they cause skin irritation or allergic skin reactions. Thus, CIR concluded that the available scientific data showed that citric acid, its salts, and esters were safe under current conditions of use in cosmetics and personal care products.

Spotlight on: Citric Acid

Citric acid is in just about everything from skincare products, to food, to floor cleaner. While lemons aren’t really something you want to be rubbing all over your face, citric acid is something very different and is actually quite beneficial!

Here is what you need to know about citric acid and how to incorporate it into your routine.

What is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is found in, you guessed it, citrus fruits, and is what gives them their acidic flavor. Citric acid was first isolated in 1784 by a chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who was able to crystallize it from lemon juice.

And not long after, it started to appear in just about everything but particularly in cosmetics and skincare products. In 2016 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program (VCRP) stated that citric acid was used in almost every category of cosmetic products and had over 10,000 reported uses.

It is also used as a popular flavor and preservative agent in foods, soft drinks, and candies.

What Are AHAs?

Citric acid is what’s known as an alpha hydroxy acid (or AHA) in the skincare world. The most basic definition of an HA is a carboxylic acid, which is an organic acid that has at least one carboxyl (carbon double-bonded to oxygen) group. However, that general definition includes unrelated compounds like retinoic acid, L-ascorbic acid, and azelaic acid. Therefore, further qualifications (like alpha, beta, etc) need to be identified.

AHAs are non-abrasive, leave-on exfoliators that are traditionally more effective and gentle than traditional scrubs. Sun damage and overly dry or oily skin can hinder your body’s ability to properly shed dead skin cells. These obstructions can cause skin concerns like dullness, clogged pores, milia, texture, and breakouts. Using an exfoliant can help your skin clear out the dead cells to make room for the new, healthy ones. Chemical exfoliants help to prevent breakouts and premature aging and reduce the appearance of pores.

How Can Citric Acid Benefit Your Skin?

AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid can be incredibly potent, and sometimes a little too much for those with sensitive skin. That is where citric acid can be helpful! It is like the training bra of AHAs: It doesn’t really do as much as its fellow acids, but it’s made for people who don’t need the support older girls do.

But what exactly are the benefits of citric acid for the skin? Citric acid (like most all AHAs) can help to brighten skin, shrink pores, treat acne, and correct dark spots and fine lines.

Before it started being added to formulas for its exfoliating abilities, citric acid used to be used to keep the pH range of skincare products in check. The pH of cosmetics and skincare products is important because the skin’s normal pH is slightly acidic. A low acidic pH can cause ingredients to be more irritating for those with sensitive skin.

Is It Safe?

The terms “citric” and “acid” are intimidating on their own but can be downright scary when used together. Especially when it comes to something that you’re putting on your face! But according to The Derm Review, it is perfectly safe to use on the skin! “The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel reviewed scientific literature and data on the safety of citric acid and its salts and ester in 2014. This data revealed that at concentrations used in cosmetics and personal care products, citric acid and its salts and esters were not eye irritants, nor did they cause skin irritation or allergic skin reactions. Thus, CIR concluded that the available scientific data showed that citric acid, its salts, and esters were safe under current conditions of use in cosmetics and personal care products.”

Some people get freaked out by citric acid because they know that lemons are highly irritating for the skin. And while, yes, you can absolutely go overboard with citric acid, it’s safe to use.

Just be cautious, especially if you have sensitive skin. The thing with citric acid is that it can be intense. Let’s put it this way: How will you know if you’re using too much? Side effects of overuse include stinging, burning, and irritation.

If you’re still unsure, always do a patch test first to see how your skin reacts. If you don’t see any irritation or redness, start to slowly introduce it into your routine. Don’t use AHAs the same night you use retinoids or physical exfoliants because that can lead to serious damage to your skin’s barrier!

Bottom Line

Citric acid can be an effective chemical exfoliant for those with sensitive skin. I don’t find it as effective as glycolic or lactic acid, however, but if you have tried those and found them to be too irritating, citric acid could be a great alternative!

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This post also appears at the Purely Primal Skincare blog!

Citric acid is found in many skincare products, from the conventional drugstore stuff filled with unnecessary chemicals to the more natural, skin-friendly products we love to recommend in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide.

So…is it safe for the skin?

The answer is: yes, it’s safe in the proper concentrations (and any skincare product you can buy that contains citric acid uses this ingredient in safe concentrations – otherwise, they could get in major trouble). The Environmental Working Group ranks citric acid very low on potential toxicity as shown here.

Citric acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). In addition to buffering the acidity of skincare products to keep them at the proper pH for shelf stability, AHA can help enhance skin cell turnover – it’s like a natural exfoliant, without the scrubbing.

AHA is also found in unfiltered apple cider vinegar – which is one reason we love ACV! Alpha hydroxy acids can help brighten dull skin. Many “skin brightening” products will contain acids like this for this very purpose. These are often marketed as citrus scrubs, since citrus fruits contain citric acid.

But there are a few things to be aware of before you decide if citric acid is an ingredient that’s right for YOU.

While the EWG states that “itric acid is naturally found in citric fruits and juices, providing the characteristic acidic taste,” the truth is, the citric acid found in many products is NOT, as this statement would make us believe, derived from citrus at all.

Citric acid can also be, and often is, derived from corn – often genetically modified corn, which makes up nearly all of the corn production in the United States today.

Those with severe corn allergies will always want to check the source of citric acid in their personal care products to ensure it’s derived from citrus and not corn. Often, this requires a call to the manufacturer as it won’t necessarily be disclosed on the label.

Further, if you’re concerned about the safety of GMO foods, or you’re simply avoiding them on principle, you may want to take this into consideration when looking at the ingredients labels on your cosmetics.

Many naturally and non-toxic skincare companies will proudly state their GMO status on their labels. Next to individual ingredients, they’ll add “non GMO.” You’ll often see this next to vitamin E ingredients or citric acid.

Check out the labeling here from Summer Sky Organics, one of my favorite skincare brands, for an example of this transparency with regards to GMO.

So, in short: yes, citric acid is safe; however, it’s important you consider the other ingredients also contained in the same product (do they fall on our list of ingredients to avoid?) and, of course, consider whether you’d like to avoid corn-derived or GMO ingredients in your cosmetics.

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These are the Benefits of Citric Acid in Skin Care Products

“Citric acid can do lots for your skin, but here’s what you need to know if you’re going to use it.”

If you’re anything like us, citric acid probably sounds to you more like an ingredient that belongs in a smoothie than in a face cream. But with a number of different benefits, it should be on that skin care ingredient list, too. Here’s the deal with this acid.

Can we talk about acids in general?

For sure. Citric acid belongs to a larger category of acids known as AHAs, alpha-hydroxy acids (other common AHAs include glycolic, lactic, and malic acids). AHAs are a popular choice in skin care for several reasons. Acids exfoliate the skin; by dissolving the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together, they help to leave your skin smoother, more even, and more radiant. Granted, the word ‘acid’ can sound scary, especially if you have sensitive skin. While not all acids are created equal, AHAs generally tend to be slightly gentler and less irritating than others. It’s also important to note that it’s not only the type of acid being used that matters, but also the concentration. For example, the amount of AHAs you’ll get in an at-home serum is going to be drastically different than how much is in an in-office chemical peel.

OK, so what about citric acid?

True to its name, it’s present in citrus fruits—oranges, lemons, grapefruit—as well as berries. When it comes to citric acid benefits, it’s obviously a great exfoliant (to our previous point), for brightening a lackluster complexion. But, unlike many other acids, citric acid is unique because it also has antioxidant properties. This makes it a great companion in the fight against external aggressors that generally can wreak havoc on your skin basically the second you step outside (we’re talking about you, sun and pollution). Citric acid in skin care is common, not only for these reasons, but also for formulation purposes. Because it’s an easy way to help adjust the pH of products and make them more shelf-stable, it’s a fairly common ingredient out there.

Is citric acid safe for skin?

Yes, but just be cautious, especially if you have sensitive skin. The thing with citric acid is that it can be intense. Let’s put it this way. Say you overdo it on self-tanner—a quick Google search will tell you that scrubbing your skin with a lemon can help remove it. That’s citric acid doing its thing. Point being, if it can take off self-tanner, it’s clearly pretty strong. The other issue with citric acid is that the Internet is full of homemade DIY beauty recipes touting it; you can even buy it in powder form to add to products. Nothing against going the DIY route but be cautious in this case. The unwanted side effects of too much citric acid include stinging, burning, and irritation—and those are particularly likely if you have sensitive skin. Sound like you? Stick to products that aren’t DIY, like a citric acid serum or citric acid cream. And if you’re still a little nervous, you can always take any product for a test run by applying it on your forearm for a few days and watching for any irritation that crops up. If you do have sensitive skin, as with any potent ingredient or product, it’s also not a bad idea to start using it gradually, and slowly work your way up to using it more frequently as your skin gets used to it.

How do I know if I should be using it?

If your skin is oiler or you have more prominent pores, citric acid can be a good pick for you, especially because it also has astringent properties. And for exfoliating purposes, it’s also a good option. But, to our point above, if your skin is sensitive or easily irritated, you may want to think about passing on this one. Confused? Don’t be. The Skinsei holistic diagnostic tool has got you covered, taking into account everything from your skin type to your diet (yes, it matters!) to help figure out exactly which products are best for you – including those with citric acid as part of their formulas.

If you’re anything like me, you pile at least three skin-care products on your face each morning. Right now, my routine includes a moisturizing essence (which feels like water on your skin), an antioxidant vitamin C serum (my current fave is SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic), and a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher (like Obagi Professional-C Suncare SPF 30). If you don’t already layer your skin care, it’s a good idea to start: Dermatologists say it traps more active ingredients against your skin, so every product you use works better. But you before you get all mixologist on your face, you should know that some skin-care ingredients do not play nice together. Here’s your do-not-mix list:

Retinol and alpha hydroxy acids, like glycol and lactic acids. “This duo is a recipe for redness and irritation,” says Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist in Boston. If you do mix them, the fastest way to calm skin is by popping an anti-inflammatory, like aspirin, and smoothing on hydrocortisone cream.

Citric acid with anything. We know what you’re thinking: What’s citric acid? “It’s an ingredient in lots of moisturizers, and when you layer it with other products, it causes irritation,” says Hirsch. (It’s listed as citric acid on the ingredient list, so it’s easy to spot.)

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Retinol and acne treatments. Using salicylic acid and retinol at the same time causes dryness and redness. Mixing benzoyl peroxide with retinol has the opposite effect: “The two ingredients have been shown to deactivate each other,” says Fredric Brandt, a dermatologist in New York City and Miami.

Vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids. “They change the pH of vitamin C enough to destabilize it, making the antioxidant ineffective,” says David Bank, a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, New York. If you’re wearing a serum with glycolic acid, pick serums with heartier antioxidants, like green tea and resveratrol.


• 8 Rules of Layering Your Skin-Care Products

• My New Dewy-Skin Obsession: Essences!

• The Top 8 Anti-Aging Products Under $20

Uses & Benefits

Commonly used as a food additive as a natural flavoring and a preservative, citric acid is also used in cosmetics, for medical purposes, as an antioxidant and in cleaning products.

  • Food flavoring and preservative

    Citric acid can be added to processed and packaged foods and drinks such as ice cream, sorbets, sodas, wine and canned and jarred foods, as a preservative, an emulsifying agent and as a sour flavoring. Citric acid is added to many canned and jarred foods to help prevent botulism.

  • Cosmetics and personal care products

    As an ingredient in personal care products, citric acid can help to brighten skin, correct dark spots and minimize fine lines. Products containing citric acid can be formulated for use near the eyes, lips, mouth and nasal passages, as well as for safe application to babies’ skin. Citric acid and its salts may also be used in hairsprays, and deodorant and body sprays. Sodium citrate, a salt of citric acid, is used in lipstick, soap, and in detergent. Citric acid and its salts can be used to preserve cosmetics and personal care products, and to help adjust their pH level.

  • Medical uses

    Citric acid is used to help kill harmful bacteria, as well as infections on the surface of the skin that can be common in people with diabetes, the elderly and people who smoke. Citric acid also can be combined with sodium citrate and potassium citrate to lower acid levels in the urine to help prevent gout attacks.

  • Antioxidant

    Antioxidants, which are derived from citric acid, can help keep food edible over a longer period of time. For example, sprinkling lemon juice, which contains citric acid, over apples or bananas can help prevent them from turning brown. Ascorbic acid, better known as Vitamin C, is also found in citric acid and is often used to help protect and preserve soft drinks and meats.

  • Cleaning products

    Citric acid may be added to commercial cleaning products, as it can help remove hard water build-up on dishes and glassware. It also can be used to remove coffee and tea stains, yellowing/browning discolorations and water and urine stains. Some commercial products that contain citric acid are water-based and can cause corrosion on metals. To minimize and prevent rust, dry the metal after cleaning it.

The safety of citric acid and its salts and esters was assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel in 2014. Given that the FDA determined citric acid, calcium citrate, potassium citrate, sodium citrate and triethyl citrate as GRAS for use in food, in addition to the fact that citric acid is essential for the production of energy in cells in both plants and animals, the CIR Expert Panel focused on the potential for citric acid and its salts and esters to cause adverse effects when placed on the skin.
CIR reviewed scientific literature and data which indicated that at concentrations used in cosmetics and personal care products, citric acid and its salts and esters were not eye irritants, nor did they cause skin irritation or allergic skin reactions. Thus, CIR concluded that the available scientific data showed that citric acid, its salts, and esters were safe under current conditions of use in cosmetics and personal care products.
The CIR Expert Panel did note that although citric acid could be considered an alpha-hydroxy acid, it is also a beta-hydroxy acid making it distinct from the other alpha-hydroxy acids previously reviewed by the CIR Expert Panel (for example lactic acid and glycolic acid). The CIR Expert Panel concluded that the concern about increased sun sensitivity resulting from the use of alpha-hydroxy acid containing products was not relevant to products containing citric acid and its salts and esters because of the difference in chemical structure

Citric acid, calcium citrate, potassium citrate, sodium citrate and triethyl citrate are on the FDA’s list of direct food substances affirmed as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS ). FDA permits tributyl citrate and triethyl citrate to be used as indirect food additives in some food packaging materials.

Learn more about FDA Code of Federal Regulations for Citric Acid and its Calcium, Potassium and Sodium Salts, and Tributyl and Triethyl Citrates:

· Substances for Use as Components of Coatings: Sec. 175.300 Resinous and polymeric coatings

· Substances for Use as Components of Coatings: Sec. 175.320 Resinous and polymeric coatings for polyolefin films

· Specific Prior-Sanctioned Food Ingredients Sec. 181.27 Plasticizers

· Substances for Use Only as Components of Adhesives Sec. 175.105 Adhesives

European Union (EU)
All of the ingredients reviewed by the CIR are listed in the European Union inventory of cosmetic ingredients and may be used in cosmetics and personal care products marketed in Europe according to the general provisions of the Cosmetics Regulation of the European Union.

The safety of citric acid and its calcium, potassium and sodium salts has been assessed by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. The most recent review concluded that these additives ‘do not constitute a significant toxicological hazard’ and it was therefore not necessary to set an Acceptable Daily Intake limit. As such, the amount in food is limited only by the amount needed to achieve the technical function within the product.

What Is Citric Acid, and Is It Safe?

Citric acid is found naturally in citrus fruits like lemons and limes. Verdina Anna/Getty Images


Citric acid is something that we all consume or come in contact with, but many people are in the dark about what it actually is. Plus, with the word “acid” tacked onto the end, it can seem a little scary. So is it actually worthy of those fears, or is it an unavoidable part of everyday life?

The first thing to know about citric acid is that there are two types. The first is derived from — you guessed it — citrus fruits, like oranges, lemons and limes. It’s also present to a lesser degree in tomatoes and berries. “This type of citric acid is naturally made and good for you. It is high in antioxidants,” says personal trainer and nutritionist James Hickey in an email.

There’s not a whole lot of controversy about fruit-related citric acid, fortunately. “Consuming foods with natural citric acid in them is completely healthy and should be part of your nutrition plan,” Hickey says. “The only negative side effects that can happen is if you were to eat citric fruits in excess it can decrease the enamel on your teeth and cause heartburn.” Fortunately, he says that these problems can be eliminated simply by drinking water when enjoying citric foods.

How Citric Acid Is Made

It’s the non-naturally occurring citric acid that gets some people’s knickers in a twist, which is not too surprising given that it’s actually grown on black mold — the same type you might find in your bathroom. Even more daunting, this version of citric acid accounts for the vast majority out there in the world.

“Today, 99 percent of citric acid is made via microbial fermentation. Only 1 percent is naturally derived from citrus fruit,” says registered dietitian Erica Julson in an email interview.

The manufactured version of citric acid usually looks like a white powder.

To manufacture mass quantities of citric acid, which is used in a dizzying array of products (more on that in a minute), a mold called Aspergillus niger (A. niger) is grown in pans using a carbohydrate substance like sugar or molasses to help the fermentation process along. Other inorganic ingredients, like potassium phosphate and magnesium sulfate are then added, and once the ideal pH balance is achieved the sterile pans are introduced to the A. niger spores, which then germinate and eventually cover the liquid. The resulting product is a mat of mold. Several days later, the citric acid starts being produced until most of the sugar is consumed.

Naturally, the idea of consuming anything that’s been involved with a “mat of mold” has people feeling some kind of way, especially since this particular type of mold under other circumstances is a major contributor to food spoilage and can even cause some types of pneumonia!

So far, popular medical opinion indicates that there’s nothing too grave to be concerned about, however. “Medical experts have responded to these black mold concerns and have said that it is so refined that there isn’t any reason to be concerned,” Hickey says. “I still don’t feel very comfortable about it though, especially for people that may have a mold allergy.”

Indeed, some people might need to be a little more mindful than others. “Citric acid is ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) by the USDA, but there have been reports of citric acid causing canker sores, atopic dermatitis, inflammatory reactions, and stomach upset in some people,” Julson says. “People who are extremely mold or yeast sensitive or allergic/sensitive to corn, beet, or cane sugar/starches may want to avoid citric acid since these items are used in the production of citric acid.”

Benefits of Citric Acid

That said, citric acid has been credited with some pretty impressive feats, such as protecting the brain thanks to its antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also linked to improved nutrient absorption, and has been tied to improved bone health, as well.

Some of the properties that make citric acid body-beneficial are also why they’re used in other products. “Citric acid is used as an additive because of its antibiotic properties. In some canned foods, it is used to protect against botulism,” says certified fitness instructor and Anabolic Bodies CEO Eddie Johnson via email.

Indeed, its preservative powers make it a natural for inclusion in everyday staples like ice cream, canned goods, wine, jams, applesauce, fish and shellfish because it keeps the product’s pH balanced and prolongs its shelf life, according to Julson. Plus citric acid “adds a pleasant tart taste to fruit-flavored products, especially candy and beverages,” she says.

Even if you’re fastidious about non-naturally occurring citric acid consumption, there’s still a pretty good chance that you’ll come into contact with it, as it’s a common component of makeup, chemical peels, bath bombs, detergents, cleaning supplies and even supplements. Citric acid stabilizes active ingredients in medications and improves their taste. Its antibacterial properties make it an effective disinfectant, which is why it’s added to cleaning products.

“I swear by the amazing benefits of citric acid for the skin,” says Alisha Lawson, a product development expert who specializes in beauty products for cosmetics company Shiny Leaf. “It treats several skin problems like mild acne, dark spots, clogged pores, and wrinkles,” she says, adding that certain formulations are known to help brighten complexion and even out skin tone.

Fortunately, this doesn’t seem like an ingredient we need to worry too much about. “Most studies have found citric acid to be safe, and some have even found it to be neuroprotective , ” says dietician Julson. “Consuming large quantities can certainly damage teeth or irritate the intestines, but for most healthy individuals in small doses, it is relatively benign.”

Sure, you could load up on pricey cleansers and moisturizers—or you could use a product that’s practically free and probably already in your kitchen: milk. Natural-beauty expert Paige Padgett says the ingredient can help soften, tone, and exfoliate your skin—and more. Here, she shares her favorite beauty uses for the dairy product.

Have sensitive skin that seizes up at the thought of being touched by a traditional foamy cleanser? Padgett recommends trying out whole milk as your daily cleanser. “It’s gentle, yet effective in removing excess oil and makeup,” she says.

Milk contains lactic acid, which is a form of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), the same ingredient in upscale chemical exfoliants. AHAs work to reduce wrinkles and boost collagen while smoothing skin overall—without irritating skin with gritty exfoliants. Simply soak a cotton pad in milk, and sweep it over your face and down your neck. “It’s a gentle exfoliation,” says Padgett. “Not like a fruit acid or enzyme, which can be harsher.”

MORE: 7 At-Home Fixes For Everyday Skin Problems

Skin Softener
Rumor has it that Cleopatra took luxurious milk baths to get super-soft skin. While you may not need to fill your entire tub with gallon upon gallon of milk to achieve silky smooth stems, you certainly can add a couple of cups to warm water for a lavish soak. ” feels decadent and makes skin soft and smooth,” says Padgett.

Toning Mask
Other dairy products are great for your skin, too. Padgett recommends using yogurt as a mask to even skin tone, gently exfoliate, and soften skin. “Yogurt works great for masks because of its consistency,” she says. Apply a thin layer over your skin, and let sit for five to 10 minutes before rinsing.

MORE: 11 Skin-Care Habits to Start NOW to Get Gorgeous Skin for Years to Come

Spot Treatment
The lactic acid in milk brightens and exfoliates—and also treats breakouts, says Padgett. ” will also hydrate, something that many people who suffer from acne forget to do.” She recommends mixing milk with flour to create a thin paste. Apply it before bedtime, leave it on overnight, and rinse in the morning.

MORE: Simple Ways to Cover ANY Kind of Acne

The Skin We’re In: Because sometimes beauty really is skin deep.

Acids are totally groovy. Just ask your aunt with that hippie tattoo or, as it turns out, any dermatologist. If you have anti-aging, anti-acne, or anti-dry-skin concerns — or, in other words, if you are human — acids are great for your face. They work by helping you get new skin quicker through a process dermatologists call “turnover.” New skin is shiny and bright, and looks better than old skin. As Dr. Julie Russak explains, “Dead cells absorb light rather than reflect it, resulting in dull-looking skin.” Below, our non-painful everything guide to the essential face acids.

Glycolic acid is a good starter acid.

Celebrity dermatologist Dr. Patricia Wexler says that there are about 16 acids regularly in rotation at her office. Of them, glycolic is the most popular. If acids were a boy band, glycolic acid would be your Justin Timberlake — the one liked by everybody. A type of alpha-hydroxy acid, it’s often recommended by dermatologists to acid virgins because it’s gentle and has proven anti-aging properties. Compared to other acids, glycolic has the smallest molecules and thus penetrates the skin most easily for dramatic results. Dr. Meghan O’Brien of Tribeca Park Dermatology explains: “Glycolic acid stimulates collagen, which helps with fine lines, wrinkles, and the general tone of the skin.” Dr. Harold Lancer, dermatologist to Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian West, suggests trying a 6 to 10 percent glycolic- or fruit-acid-based cream twice a week for two weeks for results.

Salicylic acid is best for acne.

If you’ve ever blindly grabbed at a drugstore acne product in a zit-related panic, you’ve probably already tried salicylic acid. A type of beta-hydroxy acid, salicylic is the second most common acid because of its ubiquity in acne products. As its molecules are larger than glycolic, its treatment percentages are lower. Reach for a product with salicylic acid when you want to get rid of pimples — its anti-inflammatory properties will help dissolve dead-skin buildup. Because it’s great at unclogging pores, Dr. Wexler also recommends it to people with larger pores who want to minimize their appearance.

Hyaluronic acid is the moisturizing acid.

If you have dry-skin concerns, try hyaluronic acid. It’s not like the others in that it doesn’t dissolve dead skin. It’s a natural carbohydrate and humectant found in the human body that cushions and lubricates skin. Babies are born with a high amount of hyaluronic acid and the amount in our bodies decreases as we age. It can be found in moisturizers and as an injectable filler, with Juvederm and Restylane.

Lactic acid can help you moisturize and exfoliate at the same time.

Lactic acid is the rare acid that’s a moisturizing exfoliant. Dr. Wexler explains that it’s a milder version of glycolic that’s great for smoothing the skin, whether it be on your legs or your face. She doesn’t use it very often on the face as it’s so mild — but its mildness does make it perfect for those with sensitive skin. It has a particular scent that’s sort of like a metallic-y yogurt. If you use Sunday Riley’s Good Genes, you’re familiar with this perfume — a core ingredient in it is lactic acid.

If you’re scared of acids, try a wash.

If you haven’t used any acids before and are nervous, try incorporating one into your routine with a wash. Dr. O’Brien says, “With a wash you can limit the amount of contact time with the skin and avoid over-drying.”

Don’t try an acid peel at home.

Acids are not necessarily going to hurt. If you’re using a moisturizer or face wash with an acid, it might slightly tingle for a brief amount of time. If you are getting a professional chemical peel, it will tingle for a longer length of time. But if you are Amazon-ing DIY acid peels late at night, it will hurt. Half the reviews for acid peels on Amazon vacillate between “This was amazing~!~” and “This gave me a chemical burn so bad that I couldn’t leave my house for two weeks.” You are not the exception. You are the rule; you will get burned. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Lancer cautions against attempting your own medical-grade peel at home: “You risk extremely serious burns, scarring, and permanent damage to the skin.”

You can only tell if acids are working over time.

Dr. Lancer explains how you can tell whether your acids are working: “Acids should noticeably brighten and even out the skin; you will notice pigmentation, freckling, and unevenness lessen over time. You will not necessarily ‘feel’ anything, but skin should be smoother to the touch after a period of regular use. It is also quite easy to notice when you have overused acids: Your skin will appear red, irritated, itchy, and dry. If this occurs, stop the use of the product for a few days and amp up your moisture application.”

Don’t go smearing a pineapple on your face.

Sure, you could smush a bunch of oranges and pineapples on your face and hope that you’re giving yourself a fruit peel, but, unsurprisingly, all the dermatologists we interviewed don’t suggest that. Not even with organic fruit. Dr. Lancer simply says, “It is possible, but not advisable.”

This article was originally published February 3, 2015. It has been updated throughout.

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The Benefits of Using Mandelic Acid in Your Skincare

The skincare world never sleeps. Just as you got comfortable, finally learning your way through glycolic and salicylic acid, another trend is already rising – mandelic acid.

Is it here to stay? How effective is it and how does it differ from the other well-known acids? What should you use it for?

If these are some of the questions swirling around your head, we’re here to set the record straight.

Let us introduce you to the new kid on the block – mandelic acid – and the benefits associated with using mandelic acid in your skincare regimen.

What Is Mandelic Acid?

I’m sure you are already familiar with the alpha hydroxy acid group, a powerful tool in battling many skin conditions. But, just in case you need extra details, here’s our guide on the benefits and uses of AHAs for the skin.

I mentioned AHAs because mandelic acid is another member of this potent acid group. Think of mandelic acid as the gentlest kid in the family, but still holding onto all the trademarks of other alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).

Mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds and used in over-the-counter skincare products and in professional chemical peels to exfoliate and improve your skin texture.

Don’t rush to any judgments – just because mandelic acid has made a reputation as one of the most gentle acids in the world of skincare it doesn’t mean it’s any less effective. It’s actually a powerful exfoliator so using mandelic acid in your skincare regimen is definitely worth your while.

The gentle nature of mandelic acid comes from its molecular size which is near twice the size of other AHAs (glycolic acid having the smallest molecular size). This means that mandelic acid has a lot less bioavailability, penetrating the skin slowly and enabling the gradual delivery of skin’s altering compounds.

In other words, it works slowly and patiently, letting the skin adjust and absorb all the active ingredients without irritating it or causing redness.

What Is Mandelic Acid Used For?

Mandelic acid is most often used as a starter acid for everyone that is new in the world of acid-treatments for acne and aging-skin troubles, because of its gentle nature.

Also, mandelic acid is used as an alternative for people with sensitive skin type or people who’ve overused the stronger acids.

So, why are you hearing about it only now?

Well, the never-ending battle against acne and acne scars demanded stronger and more powerful solutions, turning the industry towards solutions such as benzoyl peroxide, glycolic, or salicylic acid.

But, soon after people have realized the despair and constant rush for more have contributed to even greater problems on their inflamed, wrinkled or discolored skin. That caused a shift in the beauty industry – a need for finding and developing effective but much gentler products.

If you understand that healing is a long term process and it takes time, then you already understand the use of mandelic acid in skincare routines.

Mandelic Acid VS. Other AHAs

To be fair, I don’t think there’s an absolute objective comparison between the most famous AHAs – glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acid.

All three of the acids share the same benefits for the skin, with slight differences. That means that you only have to do the leg work and find out what’s the best fit for your skin type.

In any case, here are some general guidelines:

Glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size, which means it has the greatest bioavailability, penetrating the skin fast and deep. It’s considered the strongest of AHAs, and some might argue that it’s also the most effective. If your skin can tolerate glycolic acid then you might see fast and long-lasting results. But, for many people, glycolic acid is too drying on the skin, irritating, and can frequently cause redness and a burning sensation.

Lactic Acid VS Mandelic Acid

Lactic acid is closer to mandelic acid when it comes to the effect they have on the skin. Mandelic acid is still gentler than lactic acid, which can make it an even better starter option.

There’s really no rule here.

I like to consider the two acids as great alternatives to stronger acids that complement each other, with mandelic being ideal for people who suffer from a nut allergy or are lactose intolerant (lactic acid is derived from milk).

Many people refer to mandelic acid as a godsend and an absolute life changer at the beginning of their skincare journey, enabling them to adjust to the use of acids in general.

Another difference between the acids is seen in their frequency of use. Mandelic acid is safe for everyday long-term use, but we can’t say the same thing for glycolic acid (although that also depends on the concentration).

So, depending on your habits and skin needs, you can choose the acid that will suit you best.

Benefits Of Using Mandelic Acid For Skin

Improving Skin Texture

Mandelic acid is a potent exfoliator that works by dissolving the intercellular glue that holds skin cells together, which helps to remove dead skin on the surface and accelerate cell turnover preventing a dull complexion. Additionally, it provides antiseptic and antibacterial support which helps reduce inflammation and redness.

All this can even out your skin tone, and make the skin appear smoother and younger.

Reducing Wrinkles And Fine Lines

Mandelic acid can help soften fine lines, and with long-term use, it may help with firmness and elasticity. That, in turn, will make the skin more resilient to the development of wrinkles.
By exfoliating the skin and removing dead skin cells, mandelic acid paves the way to the deeper live cells in the skin where it acts by strengthening collagen production. Collagen is one of the skin’s building blocks and the protein that gives it its firmness and elasticity.

Some findings provide new insights into the way mandelic acid works on the skin, supporting the fact that it can also stimulate the skin to balance its natural oil production so that it stays moisturized and hydrated without being oily.

When your skin is elastic and well moisturized it can heal better after being exposed to the everyday trauma – from facial expressions and touching to environmental conditions.

Using mandelic acid on a regular basis for a longer period of time can reduce the appearance of already formed superficial wrinkles, and also protect the skin from the development of new wrinkles.

Reducing Hyperpigmentation And Discoloration

Melasma is a common skin condition where dark brown or greyish pigmentation develops on the face. Well, according to this study, patients showed up to 50% improvement in their skin condition after using a formula containing 10% mandelic acid for about a month.

Another study comparing the effects of glycolic and salicylic-mandelic acid peels in patients with active acne and post-acne hyperpigmentation found that 20% salicylic and 10% mandelic acid peels were more effective and caused fewer side-effects.

With continued use, you can reverse damage from aging and sun exposure.

And, best of all, unlike stronger acids, mandelic acid is a great choice for people with a darker skin tone.

Why? Well, sometimes people with highly pigmented skin have problems using alpha hydroxy acids because of the irritation they cause, which can stimulate pigment-producing cells to produce more melanin, making the skin even darker. Fortunately, this is not a problem when it comes to the gentle mandelic acid.

Treating Acne And Acne Scars

The antimicrobial, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties of mandelic acid make it an ideal acne treatment ingredient. The study in the above paragraph showed 10% mandelic acid is extremely beneficial for lightening acne scarring and preventing future breakouts.

This is mostly because, above all, mandelic acid also helps regulate sebum production without causing irritation. Being as gentle as it is, mandelic acid works really well for people with cystic acne.

Acne sufferers can also get great results by using products that contain both salicylic acid and mandelic acid at lower concentrations.

Just be careful, mixing the two acids makes the product stronger which can cause problems or irritation, especially for sensitive skin types. You can start with low concentrations of mandelic acid, then slowly build up to a higher concentration and see how your skin will react in the process. If you feel that your skin reacts well, you can go on and try products that mix salicylic and mandelic acid for better results.

The Side-Effects Of Using Mandelic Acid For Skin

Due to its gentle nature, mandelic acid doesn’t cause any serious side effects. Still, you might notice some irritation, mild itching or stinging sensation, peeling or redness. All these symptoms are part of the normal reaction of the skin, especially if it’s your first time applying acids, or mandelic acid in particular. All these symptoms will pass as you continue to use the product, but if they last longer than a few days or if you experience some more severe or persistent symptoms consult with your doctor or dermatologist.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the use of topical AHA (including mandelic acid) increases the skin’s sensitivity to sun rays which increases the risk of sunburn. This is why the FDA recommends using sunscreen every day and limiting your sun exposure when (after) you use acids topically.

How To Use Mandelic Acid In Your Home Skincare Routine?

Mandelic Acid And Skin Types

Mandelic acid is safe to use on all skin types. As already mentioned, it’s gentler than glycolic and lactic acid and it’s suitable for even the most sensitive of skin types.

Additionally, mandelic acid is great for people with a darker skin tone because it’s really unlikely to cause hyperpigmentation, a rare side-effect of other AHAs.

The problem with hyperpigmentation that’s associated with the overuse of AHAs can cause skin with a darker tone to react and develop post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

This is not something you should worry about when using mandelic acid, because it’s so gentle you can’t really overuse it (This doesn’t mean you can or you should use it more than once a day).

Mandelic Acid And Other Cosmetic Ingredients

Mixing and using more than one acid on your skin simultaneously can worsen your problems – there’s no doubt about that in the beauty industry. If you are using more than one acid at the time, you are significantly increasing your risk of skin irritation or burns.

That being said, mandelic acid works well when paired with Vitamin C, encapsulated retinaldehyde, peptides or other antioxidants. All these ingredients help increase the strength of mandelic acid.

But, be careful as all of these products together can be too much for some skin types and can cause irritation. The combination can work well for oily skin but can be overly drying for normal to dry skin.

Mandelic Acid Application Frequency

This really depends on the product you are using. Follow the instructions on the product and keep your attention on how your skin feels after using it.

Some products use low concentrations of the acid and are safe for long-term everyday use. On the other hand, stronger products can be used only once, twice, or three times a week.

Before Using Mandelic Acid For Skin

Before using a product with mandelic acid or going to a mandelic acid chemical peel you need to prepare the skin. Whether it’s in the morning or in the evening, always wash your face with lukewarm water and cleanse well. It’s imperative that you clean it completely, removing any makeup or skincare product residue.

After Using Mandelic Acid For Skin

After using mandelic acid your skin will be more sensitive and vulnerable, so it’s crucial that you protect it. Always use a moisturizer at the end of the routine and apply a sunscreen before going out and exposing your skin to the sun.

When Should You Expect The Results Of Using Mandelic Acid?

You can expect to see results such as smoother skin right after using mandelic acid. But, for more drastic changes, like the reduction of pimples and blemishes, you will need to wait at least two weeks.

After using it regularly for a month or two you can expect to see your brown spots, wrinkles and acne scars fading and becoming less noticeable.


So, isn’t it wonderful when something powerful and effective comes along to get you the results you’ve always wanted in a gentle way and without making your skin irritated?

This is exactly how one can describe mandelic acid.

A powerful exfoliator that’s the go-to anti-aging and anti-scarring ingredient for troublesome skin. It’s gentler than glycolic or lactic acid, making it a better fit for people with sensitive skin.

Mandelic acid is used for improving the overall skin texture, brightening the skin, and the three key skin problems: wrinkles and fine lines, hyperpigmentation and discoloration, acne and acne scars.

You can use it as a cleanser, scrub, or toner in your everyday routine, or use it as a high-strength chemical peel in a professional setting.

Start with lower concentrations and make your way up as your skin adjusts.

Cheat Sheet: Every Type of Skin Care Acid, Explained


Ferulic acid. Hyaluronic acid. Lactic acid. Salicylic acid. Sometimes it can seem like we’re in chemistry class rather than browsing the skin care aisle looking for a good serum. It’s easy to assume that all acids are pretty much the same, but they’re not. And knowing the differences between the acids used in skin care is essential for targeting complexion concerns.

It is true that acids are common ingredients in beauty products because they help improve skin. Dr. Vermén M Verallo-Rowell, founder of VMV Hypoallergenics, explains that skin care acids induce necrosis of cells, aka cell turnover. This causes older cells to shed and new ones to quickly grow below, thus improving the texture of skin. But different acids target specific skin care concerns depending on the molecular size of the acid and its strength. Some target fine lines and wrinkles, while others treat acne or hyperpigmentation.

It may initially seem overwhelming trying to figure out the difference between AHAs and BHAs, but it’s not necessary to get into the scientific details of each acid. As long as you can remember the best acids for your skin type and complexion concerns, that’s really all that matters. (Unlike in school, there’s no quiz at the end.) Here are the key details about the different skin care acids.

Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid is a synthetic version of vitamin C that has antioxidant benefits, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip. It’s a good option for those looking for brighter skin and to stimulate collagen production. Verallo-Rowell points out that ascorbic acid is unstable once the container is open, meaning it will lose its potency over time.

Try: NIOD Ethylated L-Ascorbic Acid 30% Network, $70 at NIOD or Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, $80 at Sephora

Those with redness often fear harsh skin care ingredients like acids. There’s no need to be scared of azelaic acid. Imahiyerobo-Ip says that the acid can benefit those with redness, rosacea and acne. It’s also suitable for treating hyperpigmentation and melasma.

Try: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, $7.90 at The Ordinary or HydroPeptide Redefining Serum, $130 at DermStore

Citric acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is derived from citrus fruits, hence the name. It’s an antioxidant-rich acid that is good for preventing premature aging. Imahiyerobo-Ip adds that it’s also suitable for acne-prone or sun-damaged skin because it exfoliates to brighten brown spots. Concerned about it being harsh? Verallo-Rowell says that it’s mild and less acidic than the other AHAs.

Try: REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask, $55 at Sephora or Juice Beauty Green Apple Age Defy Serum, $55 at Ulta

Ferulic Acid

Ferulic acid is an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals and the signs of aging. It’s typically used in combination with other actives like ascorbic acid, vitamin C or vitamin E. Those with sensitive skin should use it with caution. Ferulic acid is found in the seeds of oranges and apples and in the cell walls of plants like apples and oranges. When purchasing a product with the ingredient, try to see how much processing it has been through as too much can make the acid less effective.

Try: Ole Henriksen Perfect Truth CC Crème Broad Spectrum SPF 30, $36 at Ole Henriksen or Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Serum Triple Correction Eye Serum, $68 at Nordstrom

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is a versatile AHA that can help improve the appearance of spots, scars and wrinkles while making skin more radiant. Plus, it will shrink pores. Imahiyerobo-Ip says that it’s one of the best acids for aging skin.

Try: NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Wash, $40 at NeoStrata or TULA Pro-Glycolic 10% pH Resurfacing Gel, $34 at Space.NK

Hyaluronic Acid

Most people have probably heard of hyaluronic acid used in moisturizers. That’s because it’s a superb water-retaining hydrater, according to Verallo-Rowell. It’s ideal for aging skin as it improves the appearance of fine lines and softens and plumps skin. Imahiyerobo-Ip suggests looking for products that contain hyaluronic acid and vitamin C to help the product penetrate skin.

Lactic acid is a key ingredient to remember for sensitive skin types. The acid exfoliates and softens fine lines and wrinkles, but in a less irritating way than other acids says Imahiyerobo-Ip.

Try: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment, $158 at Sephora or Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment, $24 at Nordstrom

Mandelic acid is ideal for brightening and lightening skin. According to Verallo-Rowell, the acid comes from grapes and has a fairly high acidity, but it’s less irritating than glycolic acid. It’s a common peel ingredient, so look for it in at-home and professional peels.

Try: Peter Thomas Roth PROfessional Strength 40% Triple Acid Peel, $88 at Sephora or Bakel Brightening Serum, $150 at Space.NK

Oleic Acid

Those with dry skin will want oleic acid on their radar. It’s a moisturizing essential fatty acid that is found in animal and vegetable sources, such as olive oil. The acid has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help psoriasis, eczema and even seborrheic dermatitis (excessive scalp dandruff), according to Imahiyerobo-Ip.

Try: StriVectin Advanced Acid Repair Oleic Rapid Recovery Milk, $79 at Ulta or Erno Laszlo Sensitive Cleansing Oil, $58 at Sephora

Salicylic Acid

Even those new to acids will probably have heard of salicylic acid. It’s the hero acid for those with acne-prone skin because it penetrates pores to reduce sebum. What’s more, it can remove discoloration and improve skin tone over time and can also be effective for treating rosacea. Verallo-Rowell points out that it’s the only beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and it’s not for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or allergic to aspirin. Those with darker complexions should also watch out because it can sometimes cause irregular lightening or darkening of skin.

Try: Paula’s Choice RESIST Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA, $36 at Paula’s Choice or Kiehl’s Blue Herbal Spot Treatment, $18 at Kiehl’s

Citric acid on skin

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