If a product is all over Instagram or in all of your friends’ medicine cabinets should you be using it too? Welcome to “Do You Really Need…”, a new series where we discuss, with the help of some experts, how to determine whether or not a trendy or divisive product really belongs in YOUR skin care routine. Today we’re chatting about high-concentration acids.
We’ve spent the past month and a half delving deep into the world of skin care acids. We’ve talked about the different types to choose from, their benefits, how to mix them, and more. If it’s not clear, we’re pretty big fans of chemical exfoliation.
Once you get on board and start seeing results, it can be tempting to want to take things to the next level by upping your dose. The fact that there are so many popular skin care brands offering strong formulas makes it easy.
The Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, for example, contains 25% AHAs and 2% BHAs. The Ordinary offers a peeling serum with 30% AHAs and 2% BHAs, and Goop sells peel pads with 15% glycolic acid (for a cool $125 a pack).
The thing about strong acids is that while you’ll see results quickly, if you overdo it, you can set your skin way back. Irritation, redness, burning dryness, and breakouts are all effects of over-exfoliation.
So is there a sweet spot? A percentage of acid that’s going to help you achieve your skin goals, while minimizing your risk of the effects mentioned above?
“In general, how strong you need to go in terms of acid strength depends on your skin type,” says Dr. Annie Chiu, a Southern California-based dermatologist. “If you are very oily or acne-prone, a stronger acid used conservatively (i.e. one to two times a week, not daily) can be helpful.”
In terms of exactly what percentage to use? Most dermatologists we’ve spoken to recommend using up to 15% of an AHA and up to 2% of a BHA. However, since everyone is different, it may take some trial and error to find the best dose for you.
“Get an idea of what strength and how often to use AHAs for your particular skin type by asking a dermatologist. In general, start with a lower strength that is buffered and work up as your skin develops more tolerance. Always follow with a gentle moisturizer after treatment,” says Dr. Chiu.
Another factor that can influence the strength of acid you should be using is the other products in your routine. “Use caution if you are on a retinoid, which promotes skin turnover as well and will increase penetration of any alpha hydroxys,” says Dr. Chiu. The same can go for vitamin C.
If you experience any adverse effects, either dial back the frequency of use, the percentage of acid, or both, and if you can, consult with a dermatologist.