[ BEAUTY 101 ] Pour Acid onto your Face

You read it correctly; here on The Beauty Aesthetics, I’m encouraging you all to go out into the world, grab yourselves some acid and slather it onto your skin. Not just any acid though, specific acids that can turn your troubled skin into something so flawless, you’d think you’d have someone photoshopping your appearance in real life.

I mean, unless you want to get actual corrosive acid and pour that on your face, resulting in burnt skin, possible chemical poisoning and melted eyeballs, then GO RIGHT AHEAD!

But what exactly is an acid, and how do you incorporate it into a skincare regime? A lot of people reading my COSRX BHA review got really confused as to what the product actually is, and why I used it the way I did, so today, I wanted to take a step back and reintroduce the 101 to you all so you know exactly what acid will suit your skin the best and how to add it into your skincare routine.

****just a warning, as I tend to include in a lot of posts, it’s wise to check what type of skin you have before trying out new products or venturing out to buying things without adequate research or knowledge. I strongly advise you all to definitely check whether ANY product is right for you before doing anything regrettable and if you are able to, patch test before making a purchase. If you are pregnant and wanting to try acids, then please refer to a doctor before going to buy an acid product, but my suggestion is to NOT until you have stopped breast feeding, as it’s not recommended to use any active ingredients whilst carrying a baby or feeding it with your fluids. You also want to make sure to APPLY SPF DAILY REGARDLESS as active ingredients can sensitize your skin, meaning it will react to sunlight much easier, resulting in much harsher or quicker damages.

What is an acid?

As the name suggests, it is an active ingredient (obviously acidic) that is incorporated into your skin care for exfoliating or cleansing purposes. There are currently 4 different types of acids out in the market:

  1. Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) – Universally common and is currently popular in the Western/Japanese markets.
  2. Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) – Universally common and is currently popular in the Western market, slowly creeping into the Asian Beauty realm.
  3. Poly Hydroxy Acid (PHA) – Not as well known or talked about, but still an acid that you can access in the Western market.
  4. Lipo Hydroxy Acid (LHA) – The least known as it is an acid generally found ONLY in high end skincare products, if even used at all.

Acids can come in the form of different products ranging from cleansers and washing liquids, to gel type exfoliators, toners and even creams. Depending on what products you choose to use in your beauty regime, you can mix and match different products to include acids into your life. It is advised as an acid is an active ingredient, not to be used with other actives on the same application as it may reduce the effects of other products you use, or may cause extreme skin sensitivities.

I guess from hereon out, I’ll break down each type of acid, so you get some information on each category and see whether it is suitable for you.


AHA’s are hydrophilic (meaning they dissolve in water) acids that react with the upper layer of the dermis to dissolve dead skin cells. The bonds between the desmosomes are broken down to allow for easy exfoliation. This means, that AHA’s are incredibly effective for those with normal to dry skin types, as it doesn’t disturb the water content in the skin, even to the point they may add hydration as well.

All AHA’s require to sit within a pH level of 3-5 in order to work effectively on the skin. Anything more acidic may cause damage to the dermis, and vice versa with a more alkaline pH where the effects aren’t s strong.

SUITABLE FOR: sun damage, aging, pigmentation problems and brown spots, wrinkling, rosacea and congested skin (upper layers).

There are currently six different AHA ingredients. Listed (in descending order of strength) below, the smaller the molecule, the stronger the effect of the AHA; vice versa.

  • GLYCOLIC ACID (SUGAR CANE) – Acts as a degreaser, but may increase sebum levels in the skin to control, so is most ideal for very dry skin types.
  • LACTIC ACID (MILK, YOGHURT, SOUR BUTTER MILK, FERMENTED FRUIT) – Antimicrobial, hydrating, adjusts melanin and is pH balancing for the skin.
  • MALIC ACID (APPLES, PEARS, CHERRIES) – Hydrating, soothing and increases the respiration of tissues.
  • CITRIC ACID (LEMONS, ORANGES, GRAPEFRUIT) – Anti-aging, brightens the skin and increases the thickness in the dermis.
  • MANDELIC ACID (BITTER ALMONDS) – Controls pigment in the skin.

Glycolic and lactic acids are the most common AHA ingredients found in the market, so you’re more than likely using one of the two acids in your skincare should you be already incorporating AHA in your routine. If I were to recommend an AHA ingredient to invest in, then I’d personally opt for lactic acid, or citric acid, as they both have multiple benefits, and they are bio compatible too. In saying that though, lactic acid is far stronger than citric acid, so it’ll come down to the strength of the AHA you require for your skin’s needs.


BHA’s are lipophilic (meaning they dissolve in oils) and keratolytic (can remove excess skin or conditions like warts) acids that have a smaller molecule than AHA does. That means, they not only work with the epidermis, but they are able to effectively clean deep in the follicles and pores of the skin to remove waste materials like excess sebum, dead cells, blackheads, dirt and makeup. Since BHA targets sebum, it is recommended for those with oilier skin types, or acneic skin with it’s abilities to cleanse the pores.

Just like an AHA, all BHA acids must sit within a pH of 3-5 for the effects to work on the skin. Anything too acidic can damage, and anything too alkaline will result in weaker effects. The effects and lipophilic nature of BHA can leave skin dry or dehydrated, so it usually isn’t recommended for those who have drier skin types.

SUITABLE FOR: blackheads, whiteheads, congested skin and pores, acne, wrinkles and ingrown hairs.

NOT SUITABLE FOR: people who are allergic to aspirin.

All BHA’s are made up of salicylic acid, which is an ingredient so commonly used in anti-acne skincare. It’s commonly found and derived from willow tree bark, wintergreen oil and sweet birch.

Some brands carry salicylic acid in a low percentage (roughly 2%) whereas some brands will use betaine salicylate (salicylic acid in a different compound) which is gentler than the latter, but often used in a higher percentage (roughly 5%). If I were to recommend, I’d personally opt for the betaine salicylate BHA’s as they are more gentle on the skin, yet still just as effective, without the overly dry skin feel you may get if you were to use a salicylic acid product.


  1. AHA and BHA are the most common of the 4 hydroxy acids. You’re more than likely to find a BHA or an AHA than you would an LHA or a PHA.
  2. AHA and BHA are fairly harsh, so it isn’t recommended for sensitive skin types. If anything, patch test beforehand to see if your skin can tolerate it.
  3. AHA and BHA will sensitize your skin, so it is a requirement to wear SPF daily to prevent any damage to the skin and/or reverse any effects of the chemical exfoliation.
  4. Hydroxy acids help to boost the TOC (turn over cycle) to produce new skin cells, resulting in clearer and brighter looking skin. They can also help to promote the growth of collagen (not generate NEW collagen) and is recommended to be used in conjunction with skincare products that help to boost the skin health.
  5. Check the ingredients to see which kind of AHA or BHA is used. Some companies will use synthetically sourced ingredients rather than the latter. You also want to see whether the company uses extracts of the ingredient or the concentrate only. For example, tomato ketchup VS actual tomatoes.


They’re virtually the same as AHA’s but are more gentle on the skin, so can be an alternative to AHA products for those who suffer from sensitive skin types, or are unable to handle the strength of an AHA. This is due to their larger molecular size, which also means it works better to exfoliate the dermis for normalizing the skin thickness.

There are only three known PHA’s at the moment:

  • GLUCONOLACTONE (Oxidized glucose, naturally occurring the the human body) – Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, possessing the properties of regular AHA ingredients.
  • LACTOBIONIC ACID (Oxidized lactose, or the sugars found in milk) – Humectant (draws moisture from the air and into the skin), antioxidant and soothing.
  • GALACTOSE (Sugar naturally found in the human body) – Can help to heal wounds and skin damages.

It is noted that gluconolactone is more ideal for drier skin types, and lactobionic acid is better for more normal skin types. Galactose is a far better PHA for those who have severe skin damages or wounds caused from stressed skin.


It is virtually the same as a BHA, except more lipophilic in nature. Since they have a larger molecule than regular BHA, they are unable to penetrate as deep and sits at a pH of 5.5, which is ideal for regular skin health. Since they are more gentle, it is recommended for those with oily skin types who also suffer from sensitivities.

They do, however, work to dissolve oils in the skin better, so resulting in dry or dehydrated skin is a given, thus not suitable for anyone with dry skin, maybe even normal.

LHA’s mimic tretinoin (the active ingredient in retin-A) which helps to unclog pores and enhance cell production. Just like regular BHA’s, LHA can be used for rosacea, or if you’re looking for an ingredient that is antibacterial or anti-inflammatory. That said, LHA is targeted for those who have strong wrinkling or sensitive/irritated acne bumps.

Now, as I mentioned before, your hydroxy acids can come in virtually any form ranging from a cleanser to a night cream. So in saying that, what would be the most ideal stage to apply your hydroxy acids? Since all active ingredients are pH dependent, I would recommend you to use an acid right after cleansing, since the ingredients work better on bare skin, and are unlikely to be affected by the pH of your other skincare. You’re also exfoliating your skin, so it would make logical sense to apply an acid before you apply your cream, right?

I like to use BHA, since I have a combination skin type (and for the life of me, can’t find an LHA anywhere here in Perth) with acne skin. I usually wash my skin with a pH balanced cleanser and pat my skin dry with my hands. Right after, I apply my BHA in either a liquid or a toner form directly onto my skin and wait for 30 minutes before continuing with the rest of my skincare. Though it’s not advised, if my skin texture feels rough, then I follow with an AHA liquid and again, wait another half hour before continuing with my skincare. Since BHA works better in the pores and AHA works better on the dermis layers, it would make sense to cleanse the pores first, before cleansing the skin.

Since my skin can surprisingly handle it, I also use BHA twice a day (once in the morning and once at night) using betaine salicylate in the morning, and salicylic acid at night; with adequate sun protection throughout the day, minimum of SPF 50 PA+++ in a physical block form.

Have you used acids before or are you going to incorporate acids into your skin care routine? What tips and tricks do you have when using your hydroxy acid skincare products? If you liked this post, then please click the little star icon  to show your support. Don’t forget to subscribe to this lovely little blogger, share with your friends and family and spread the love of Asian Beauty with the world.

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