The Ultimate Skincare Acid Cheat Sheet

by CloudSearch Collaborator on August 28, 2020

Skincare acids can often get confusing, but this cheat sheet will help show the differences between them. Skincare acids help encourage cell turnover (which is the process of old cells shedding and new cells coming through) which then helps improve skin texture and even out skin tone. Between the two main skincare acids, there are other uses that can help target additional skincare concerns. 

I’m sure you've heard of AHA’s and BHA’s-- but what are they, and what’s the difference between them? 

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA): Although AHAs are often known to be safe for all skin types, start slow if you have extremely dry and sensitive skin. You may need to slowly work up to daily use to avoid irritating your skin.

Glycolic Acid: Is water-soluble and can help skin retain moisture, repair sun damage, normalize skin's texture and firmness, build collagen, and even skin tone by exfoliating the surface layers of skin. 

Lactic Acid: Helps exfoliate skin by removing dead cells to reveal brighter, more even, and softer skin.

Mandelic Acid: An exfoliating acid that’s useful for preventing acne, treating sun damage, and evening out pigmentation making it Ideal for brightening and lightening sensitive skin

Malic Acid: Probably the least well known of all the acids. Increases the production of collagen and reduces the production of melanin which helps prevent hyperpigmentation while improving existing hyperpigmentation. 

Citric Acid: Usually classified as an AHA, but can be classified as a BHA with some formulations. Citric acids gently exfoliate and prevent premature aging caused by sun damage. It can be used on acne prone skin as well as dark spots because it helps brighten skin. 

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA): Primarily used for acne and sun damage. BHAs are most suitable for combination to oily skin. 

Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid is the only BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) and helps penetrate pores, remove discoloration, and improve skin tone over time. It is an oil-soluble acid, which exfoliates skin by helping refine pore size, reducing breakouts, calm redness, and evening out skin tone. 

Other Common Acids Seen In Skincare Products

Ascorbic Acid

The most common water soluble form of Vitamin C which helps brighten skin as well as stimulates collagen production. Ascorbic Acid needs to be used quick because it loses its potency after it has been opened.

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic Acid helps with redness, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, melanoma as well as acne.


Citric Acid

An Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) which comes from fruits. Citric Acids help prevent premature aging due to sun damage. It can be used with acne promise skin as well as dark spots because it helps brighten skin. 


Ferulic Acid

Although you usually find Ferulic Acid being used with other acids (such as ascorbic acid, or vitamins c and e), ferulic acid in skincare products can help shield skin from UV radiation and reduce signs of aging. 


Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic Acid is a humectant meaning that it draws moisture to the skin from the environment. It holds over 1000x its weight in water, this makes it ideal for aging skin and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 


Oleic Acid

Usually you wouldn’t think that dry skin could work with acids but Oleic Acid moisturizes dry skin with fatty acids. It is an antioxidant and contains anti-inflammatory properties which helps treat  eczema and psoriasis.