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Skincare is kind of like a Game of Thrones plotline. Sure you can dip your toe in here and there, read the recaps or ask a friend to give you the cliff’s notes, but you won’t reap full benefits of what it has to offer until you learn the back-story and immerse yourself in the intricacies. And in this trigger-happy age of non-invasive treatments, lunchtime lasers and needles on call, we tend to forget that the real results come from what you use at home, everyday and every night.

First on your curriculum? Alpha and Beta Hydroxi Acids, or AHA’s and BHA’s. From hydrating and plumping to exfoliating and pore-shrinking – targeting your complexion concern with the correct acid will not only boost your skin’s health now, but slow down signs of aging over time. We asked skin expert, and founder of Paula’s Choice, Paula Begoun. Consider this your skin acid cheat sheet.

Glycolic Acid
How it works:
“Glycolic acid is the most researched of the alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). When properly formulated (meaning in a product whose pH is between 3 and 4 for optimal effectiveness), glycolic acid gently “unglues” and helps skin shed built-up layers of dull, dead skin cells that can make skin look older. This can be wonderful for older, sun-damaged skin because sun damage causes skin to lose its ability to naturally exfoliate cells as it did when we were young.
In addition to exfoliating skin, glycolic acid also helps bind moisture to skin’s surface and can stimulate collagen production for noticeably firmer skin. It also helps to ramp up vital substances skin needs to look and feel smooth, soft, and supple.”

Who it works for:
“Glycolic acid in strengths between 5—10% is suitable for all skin types, including breakout-prone skin, but best for those with normal to dry, dehydrated, sun-damaged skin. This type of leave-on exfoliant can be alternated with BHA (beta hydroxy acid, or salicylic acid) if so desired.”

Glycholic

Paula’s Choice, Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% AHA, $45.
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NIP + FAB, Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads, $34.99. SHOP NOW
Mario Badescu, Glycolic Foaming Cleanser, $23. SHOP NOW

Salicylic Acid
How it works:
“Salicylic acid, also known as beta hydroxy acid or BHA, is a triple-threat exfoliating ingredient that can unclog pores, reduce redness, and help reduce acne-causing bacteria. Alongside these benefits, the smoothing, exfoliating action of this ingredient helps reduce multiple signs of aging as it shrinks enlarged pores. Because salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it can penetrate into the pore lining to break up clogs at their source, while also exfoliating dead, dull cells on skin’s surface. It’s relation to asprin (acetylsalicylic acid) gives salicylic acid its anti-inflammatory properties, which can be exceptionally helpful for acne-prone skin.”

Who it works for:

“Salicylic acid is best for normal to oily or combination skin that’s prone to breakouts, clogged pores, blackheads, enlarged pores, and redness. It is well suited for skin showing signs of aging and breakouts at the same time, and is a good, gentle option for sensitive skin. For best results, look for products with a 1—2% concentration for daily use.”

Salicylic

Glamglow, Supermud Clearing Treatment, $98.
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Lancôme, Exfoliance Clarté, $59. SHOP NOW
Paula’s Choice, Clear Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% Salicylic Acid. SHOP NOW

Lactic Acid
How it works:
“Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) extracted from milk, although most forms used in cosmetics are synthetic because that form is easier to formulate with and stabilise. In a pH-correct formula, lactic acid exfoliates cells on the surface of skin by breaking down the material that holds skin cells together. Lactic acid also has water-binding properties and, like the more commonly used glycolic acid, may help lighten skin discolourations and can visibly firm skin as it renews its smooth texture.”

Who it works for:
“Lactic acid in strengths between 5—8% is suitable for all skin types, including breakout-prone skin, but best for those with normal to dry, dehydrated, sun-damaged skin. This type of leave-on exfoliant can be alternated with BHA (beta hydroxy acid, or salicylic acid) if so desired. It isn’t necessary to use an AHA exfoliant with lactic acid and one with glycolic acid, though some products combine these ingredients to great effect.”

Lactic

Ole Henriksen, Lemon Strip Flash Peel, $64. SHOP NOW
Ultraceuticals, Even Skintone Serum Mild, $99. SHOP NOW
Philosophy, Miracle Worker Cleanser Mask, $45. SHOP NOW

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