Between AHAs and BHAs, glycolics and lactics and the newly trending polyglutamic acid, it can be hard to know where to start when you’re thinking about introducing an acid into your skincare routine. It often feels like for every bit of advice issued, there’s another statement completely contradicting it. And, let’s face it: A few years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find even one acid in the bathroom cabinets of most people.

Acids, however, are here to stay, so if you’re yet to discover their amazing skincare benefits, it might be time you hopped on board. To help demystify these complex-sounding skin ingredients, I caught up with some expert dermatologists to find out how to decide which acids are right for you, where exactly they should fit within your skincare routine and how often we should be using them.

Keep scrolling for the most basic guide to using acids in your skincare routine and to shop some of the best ones for beginners.

“Glycolic acid [is made] from sugar cane, which has [the] smallest molecule, meaning it penetrates skin the most,” says Thompson. “This can potentially mean better results but also more chance of irritation.” Apply this one with a damp cotton pad once a week for two to three weeks while your skin gets used to it. Then build up to three applications each week.
“Lactic acid (from milk) is a medium-sized molecule, so [it has a] lower risk of irritation,” says Thompson. “It also has a good humectant [moisture-retaining] effect, so [it is] good for dry skin.” Look for formulas that contain acids rather than trying them in their pure form if you’re completely new to chemical exfoliation. This gentle serum contains slow-release lactic acid to soften and hydrate.
“Mandelic acid is from almonds. It has a large molecule so is the least irritating but slower to see results,” explains Thompson. “However, it is also antibacterial and anti-microbial—making it perfect for acne and rosacea.” This acid from The Ordinary is a mild formula that gently sloughs away the top layers of the skin with no irritation.
This is one of the first acids that I ever incorporated into my skincare routine and I haven’t looked back since. It’s now a staple part of my daily skin ritual. Although my breakouts are hormonal, I’ve noticed that my skin looks so much more even and blemishes calm more quickly thanks to this.
A skin-quenching, gel-cream texture that locks in moisture with a huge dose of hyaluronic acid along with elasticity-boosting marine algae and skin-plumping amino acids.
Coined as a “hydration powerhouse” by the brand, this acid prevents your skin from losing valuable hydration to leave it looking plump, juicy and bright.

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