All you need to know about Citric Acid15.09.2021
The skincare industry is full of alpha-hydroxy acid. While glycolic and Lactic acids are often the focus of attention, there is another AHA that is very common and also deserves equal consideration. Citric acid is a unique AHA that has many good-for-your skin benefits and properties that are different from other acids. Gretchen Frieling MD, a triple-board-certified dermatopathologist based in Boston, dermatologist Ife Rodney, MD, founder, Eternal Dermatology, Fulton, Maryland and cosmetic chemist David Petrillo founder, Perfect Image, discuss what makes citric acids so special and how to incorporate it in your skincare routine.
What is Citric Acid?
Rodney explains that citric acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid. It’s extracted from citrus fruits like grapefruits and oranges as well as other fruits and berries. She also mentions that it is a very common ingredient. It can be found in many kinds of skincare, as well as household cleaners and food products.
What are the benefits from Citric Acid for the Skin?
Citric acid has the same exfoliating properties of any AHA. It also offers a few other benefits that are worth mentioning.
- Contains protective antioxidants: Frieling says that citric acid is different from other acids in that it has antioxidant benefits. External aggressors like sun can cause skin cell damage. Citric acid and other antioxidants can be used to combat some of the oxidative stress, resulting in a brighter skin.
- Acts as an exfoliant chemical: All alpha-hydroxy acid, including citric acid, help to dissolve the glue that holds dead cells together on the skin’s surface. It promotes cell turnover and helps these dead cells to slough away, which can help unclog pores and improve skin texture. It is worth noting, however, that citric acid is different from other AHAs due to its molecular structure: “Citric Acid’s molecules are bigger than those of glycolic acids, which is the smallest AHA, but they’re also larger than lactic acid and pyruvic acid,” Petrillo explains. This means that citric acid is less effective and more difficult to absorb by the skin. Petrillo says that citric acid may be more tolerable than glycolic acid.
- Has astringent qualities: Oily skin types should be aware. Rodney notes that citric acid is a natural oil astringent. It helps to dry out excess oil, leaving your skin feeling clean and fresh.
- Helps maintain skin’s pH levels: This is another unique feature. Rodney notes that citric acid, which has a pH of around 2, is an excellent pH balancer. Why is this important? Frieling explains that maintaining a normal skin barrier function is possible by keeping the skin’s pH level from getting too acidic. A healthy skin barrier is the key to beautiful, healthy skin.
Side effects of Citric Acid
Citric acid can cause irritation, even though it is gentler and milder than other acids. Petrillo says this is especially true for people with sensitive skin and inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea. Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun if you use citric acid.
How to Use it
As with other acids, experts agree that it is important to follow specific product instructions for application and use. Because they work together synergistically, Citric acid is often used in combination with AHAs and BHAs. However, be careful if you have sensitive skin. Petrillo advises against using any type of exfoliant such as a scrub, or abrasive tool, simultaneously. If a retinoid is part your skincare routine, it shouldn’t be used at the same time with citric acid. You can use the citric acid at night and the retinoid in the morning, or alternate days.
The Best Products with Citric Acid:
- The Ordinary AHA 30 + BHA 22% Peeling Solution
- Elemis Dynamic Facial Wash
- Skinbetter Even Tone Correcting Serum
- SkinCeuticals SkinCeuticals C+ AHA
- Dr. Barbara Strum Calming Serum