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Acids in Skin Care

Sound scary? The truth about acids and the health benefits to your skin

By Kristin Carlson, Medical Esthetician, Refined Aesthetics Med Spa, PLLC

Many people wrinkle their nose or cringe when I mention acid treatments for treating certain skin conditions. They imagine skin melting or psychedelic narcotics. The acids I’m recommending are medical-grade products containing acid solutions used in aesthetic treatments for various benefits. I am a big fan of chemical peels and at-home skin-care regimens containing acids. They keep my acne-prone skin clear and (now at the age of 40) keep those pesky wrinkles to a minimum.

Let’s discuss a few, what they are used for and, if used properly, what the benefits are to your skin.

Hyaluronic Acid: Also called hyaluronan or HA, hyaluronic acid is a water binding carbohydrate cell found in the body. It attracts and retains water, keeping your skin moist and supple. Sun exposure is the main culprit for the reduction of the body's natural production of HA, leaving the skin to appear wrinkled and dehydrated. You can increase the HA in your skin by ingesting it in supplement form, applying topically to the face, neck and decollete, or via injection by your aesthetic provider. The results are hydrated, plump, firm and glowing skin!

Alpha Hydroxy Acids: AHAs are water-soluble acids, derived from fruits, which dissolve or peel away the outermost layers of the epidermis, which is mostly composed of dead skin cells. This process allows the skin to breath and generate new, healthy skin cells. Skin conditions treated with alpha hydroxy acids include age spots, melasma, texture, fine lines and enlarged pore size. Examples of AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid and malic acid. The result: smoother, brighter and more even skin tone.

Beta Hydroxy Acids: BHAs are oil-soluble acids, which penetrate deeper into the skin, dissolving dead skin cells and excess sebum buildup. Because of the composition of BHAs and their ability to penetrate deeper into the skin, they are good options for oily or acne-prone skin. The most common BHA is salicylic acid, a great ingredient for combating acne. The result: a clearer, brighter and smoother complexion.

Quite often, acids are used in combined treatments to remedy multiple skin concerns. For instance, maybe you have combination skin and are experiencing hormonal breakouts along the jawline, but the skin on your cheeks and under-eye area are dry and sun damaged. A combination of AHAs and BHAs could be used during a chemical peel treatment with a post treatment and at-home regimen containing hyaluronic acid for moisture retention.

There are many options for the use of acids in your skin-care routine. Talk to your skin-care provider about which combination or treatment is right for you. Keep in mind, many acid treatments make you sensitive to sun exposure, so additional SPF and protection is a must. Peels are not recommended while pregnant, nursing or when using any oral or topical acne medications. Talk to your health-care provider or dermatologist if you have questions. Don’t be afraid to try new products, even if they sound scary. The results can lead to a healthier complexion and a happier you.

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