Part 1: Benefits of the Top 5 Skin Care Acids

by Dr. Kelly Runyan, OTD, LE

Below is the first of a 3-part exploration of popular skin care acids. Education is of utmost importance to me. An educated consumer is an empowered consumer.

Part 1 Benefits of the Top 5 Skin Care Acids

Part 2 What does pH have to do with a skin care acid’s effectiveness?

Part 3 Moisturizing Skin Care Acids

Part 1 -


When you think of having an acid applied to your face, do you envision a scene from a horror film? No worries.  The ongoing application of low-intensity acids can be an integral part of an effective age and acne management home program.

Choosing an over the counter (OTC) or cosmetic product that contains Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) or Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

There are 3 primary factors to consider when choosing a product that contains alpha or beta hydroxy acids.

  1. Which acid will best fulfill my skin care needs?
  2. What percentage of the active acid(s) should I use?
  3. What is the pH of the product that the acid is delivered in?

What do AHAs and BHAs do for the skin? There are a variety of acids used in the skin care industry. Each acid has a different set of attributes. Let’s explore some of the benefits of acids most commonly used in cosmetics and OTC products.

Glycolic Acid is a very popular Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) derived from cane sugar. It is found in many skin care treatment products that focus on minimizing signs of aging and acne. Glycolic Acid:

  • Exfoliates the dead skin cell layer, encouraging oil and dead skin cells to be released from the skin
  • Decreases fine lines and wrinkles
  • Attracts water into the skin (hydrophilic)
  • Helps dull, tired skin to be replaced with fresh, glowing skin
  • Decreases hyperpigmentation (discoloration) for a more even skin tone
  • Smooths and softens skin’s texture
  • Glycolic’s small molecule size allows deeper penetration which unclogs follicles and dissolves the dead skin cell build up in pores (blackheads)

IGOG Skin Care products that contain Glycolic Acid:

No. 10 Organic Illuminating Serum

No. 19 Organic Brightening Moisturizer

No. 20 Organic Gravity Defying Moisturizer

No. 22 Creamy Smoothing Moisturizer

No. 26 Organic Multi-Acid Mask (coming soon)

Lactic Acid is a fabulous AHA used to brighten and smooth the skin. Lactic Acid is derived from milk. Lactic acid:

  • Is easily tolerated by many because it is less sensitizing
  • Lightens hyperpigmentation (discoloration)
  • Brightens skin
  • Smooths texture
  • Exfoliates tired, dull skin cells

IGOG Skin Care Products that contain Lactic Acid:

No. 20 Organic Gravity Defying Moisturizer
No. 22 Creamy Smoothing Moisturizer


Kojic Acid is a pigment fighting wonder that is derived from fermented rice and Japanese Reishi mushrooms. Kojic Acid works to inhibit the production of melanin in your skin. Melanin is the substance that gives your skin its dark color when exposed to sun, inflammation (acne) or hormonal changes (melasma pregnancy mask). The more melanin you produce, the darker your skin becomes. If you have unwanted dark spots (hyperpigmentation) including Kojic Acid in your skin care routine can help even-out your skin’s color.

IGOG Skin Care Products that contain Kojic Acid include:

No. 10 Organic Illuminating Serum

No. 19 Organic Brightening Moisturizer

Retinoic Acid (RA) is a derivative of Vitamin A. RA has proven its worth in anti-aging skin care circles in both prescription form (Tretinoin, Retin-A, Renova, Refissa) and in cosmetic and OTC preparations (Retinol). Non-prescription retinol is tolerated by skin better than prescription retinoids, which tend to come with irritating side effects. There is a wealth of research to back up retinol’s anti-aging benefits.

  • Retinoic Acid (RA) adds structure and thickness the skin to fill in fine lines and wrinkles
  • RA brightens the skin by exfoliating dull, tired surface cells
  • Encourages healthy cell function
  • Functions as an antioxidant which limits free-radical damage
  • Fights hyperpigmentation (discoloration)
  • Improves pore function which helps enlarged, clogged pores purge their dead skin cell lining, returning pores to their genetically-determined size
  • All forms of vitamin A break down and deteriorate when repeatedly exposed to air and light. Buy retinol products in opaque, airless dispensing bottles like those that we use at IGOG Skin Care!
  • If you are just starting to use a retinol treatment, start slowly, allowing your skin to get used to this potent ingredient.

IGOG products that contain Retinol:

No. 4 Exfoliating Mini-Peel Pads

No. 9 Organic Retinol Serum

No. 20 Organic Gravity Defying Moisturizer

Salicylic Acid is a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) that is derived from acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin). Like AHAs, BHAs act as an exfoliant. The shedding of dead skin cells allows fresh cells to rise to the skin’s surface. BHAs are a lipid (oil) soluble molecule allowing penetration into pores that contain sebum (oil), helping to exfoliate the pore itself. This makes BHAs particularly useful to oily, acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid is usually well tolerated. This BHA inhibits inflammation, and is less likely to make users sensitive to the sun than Glycolic Acid. Those sensitive to aspirin should consult their physician before topical use.

Willow Bark Extract is a source of natural BHA, polyphenols and flavonoids. Willow Bark Extract may contribute effects similar to those seen from synthetic salicylic and can be used in organic formulations. Salicylic acid:

  • Is a keratolytic = Exfoliant
  • Is anti-inflammatory
  • Inhibits the formation of comedo (acne)
  • Restricts the growth of bacteria
  • Is capable of penetrating and breaking down sebum plugs (blackheads) opening/clearing clogged pores
  • Shrinks and tightens pores
  • Reduces appearance of wrinkles
  • Smooths skin
  • Helps to manage Keratosis Pilaris (KP) which shows up as rough bumps of dry skin on arms, thighs buttocks and cheeks
  • Reduces hyperpigmentation (discoloration)
  • Over-the-counter limits are set at 2% - 3% for topical preparations
  • pH of 3 or 4 will bring maximum benefits

IGOG Skin Care Products that contain Salicylic Acid:

No. 4 Exfoliating Mini-Peel Pads

No. 10 Organic Illuminating Serum

No. 26 Organic Multi-Acid Mask (coming soon)


  • If you use an acid in your skin care routine, you must be diligent in use of an effective sun block! Acids can make your skin more vulnerable to the sun’s rays, even days after you stop using them. Sun damage and burns can occur if you are not properly protected. Wear your sunblock and re-apply regularly!
  • Both AHAs and BHAs can cause irritation including redness, burning, flaking or itching if used in high concentrations with a low pH. It is best to do a test patch over a small area to make sure your skin can tolerate skin care acids. Ramp up usage starting with use a few times per week and increase as tolerated.
  • Consult your doctor before using AHA/BHA containing products if you are pregnant or breast feeding.
  • Darker skinned individuals may be at risk for scarring and loss of pigment (hypopigmentation) when using strong-level acids.
  • Consult a skin care professional to determine if Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids are appropriate for you.



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Gonçalez, M. L., Corrêa, M. A., & Chorilli, M. (2013). Skin Delivery of Kojic Acid-Loaded Nanotechnology-Based Drug Delivery Systems for the Treatment of Skin Aging. BioMed Research International, 2013, 271276.

Kornhauser, A., Wei, R.-R., Yamaguchi, Y., Coelho, S. G., Kaidbey, K., Barton, C., … Hearing, V. J. (2009). The Effects of Topically Applied Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid on Ultraviolet Radiation-Induced Erythema, DNA Damage and Sunburn Cell Formation in Human Skin. Journal of Dermatological Science, 55(1), 10–17.

Maia Campos, P. M. B. G., Gaspar, L. R., Gonçalves, G. M. S., Pereira, L. H. T. R., Semprini, M., & Lopes, R. A. (2015). Comparative Effects of Retinoic Acid or Glycolic Acid Vehiculated in Different Topical Formulations. BioMed research international, 2015.

Oliveira, M. B., do Prado, A. H., Bernegossi, J., Sato, C. S., Lourenço Brunetti, I., Scarpa, M. V., … Chorilli, M. (2014). Topical Application of Retinyl Palmitate-Loaded Nanotechnology-Based Drug Delivery Systems for the Treatment of Skin Aging. BioMed Research International, 2014, 632570.

Orfanos, C. E., Zouboulis, C. C., Almond-Roesler, B., & Geilen, C. C. (1997). Current use and future potential role of retinoids in dermatology. Drugs, 53(3), 358-388.

Tran, D., Townley, J. P., Barnes, T. M., & Greive, K. A. (2015). An anti-aging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 8, 9–17.

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