Remember when your AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) had to stay far away from your BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids) for fear of irritation? Skincare has come a long way since then. In fact, those chemical exfoliators that once upon a time did not play nice together actually work better together and are safe for sensitive skin. Salicylic acid (BHA), while an acne-treating all-star, is not simply for the breakout-prone. And glycolic acid (AHA), an ingredient traditionally praised for working anti-aging wonders, offers benefits for all skin types and concerns. Whether avoiding dullness, fine lines, and wrinkles or keeping skin clear is your top priority, with the latest multi-acid treatments, you don’t have to choose—you can get all the many benefits of chemical exfoliation in one product, sans side effects. After all, we love lactic acid as much as the next skincare enthusiast, but it shouldn’t have to go it alone.
This treatment serum is designed to reverse the damage caused by sunlight, pollution, and acne—aka the results of a chemical peel. Salicylic acid exfoliates skin’s surface while promoting cell renewal and improving pigmentation concerns. Lactic acid further refines and smooths skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. And as with all Omorovicza products, you can expect the healing, rejuvenating benefits of Hungary’s mineral-rich thermal waters packed into every drop. A slight tingle may occur when first applied, but that’s normal—the serum is safe for all skin types (there’s even Australian caviar lime extract to soothe irritation and soften skin). I love washing it off in the morning and seeing brighter, more even skin in the mirror.
This mask is a lifesaver for breakout-prone skin. In 15 to 20 minutes, the white willow bark (a natural BHA high in salicylic acid) and pineapple and papaya enzymes (natural AHAs) go to work gently exfoliating away dead skin cells. The resurfacing properties are balanced by the blue tansy oil, which is not only responsible for the mask’s dreamy color but also acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory, soothing irritation and calming redness. The brand recommends using it every other day for the first week and then, after the fourth use, two to three times per week to maintain results. Every other day may seem like a lot at first, but it works—once I started seeing results (after about the second use, even though you’ll feel the results after one), I was tempted to use it every day. Tip: Every month, I use it three to four times a week in anticipation of hormonal breakouts and it keeps my skin calm (and bright).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Wake Wonderful truly lives up to its name. Use it if you want to wake up to plump, hydrated, soft, radiant skin. While you sleep, it works in three phases. First, lactic and glycolic acids resurface uneven texture like fine lines and reduce surface pigmentation while supporting natural cell turnover. Don’t be afraid of a little tingle in phase one—it goes away shortly. Next, natural oils and minerals nourish and repair skin. Finally, sodium lactate draws moisture into the skin to plump and deeply hydrate. It feels like heaven on and off the skin. You can use it over serums and/or under moisturizer, but I see best results when I wear it solo.
Cane + Austin glycolic peel pads are nothing short of iconic. Beauty lovers have been turning to the brand for youthful, glowing skin for years. For those fighting texture and acne concerns, there’s Acne Retexture, which features both salicylic and medical-grade glycolic acid (available in 5% and 10% glycolic). The one-step daily treatment pads target fine lines and wrinkles, age spots and hyper-pigmentation, uneven skin tone and texture, enlarged pores and acne. They’re also great to help treat post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation (aka lingering spots left behind after blemishes have healed) and early signs of acne scarring. Despite being an intensive treatment, they’re rather non-irritating, even for my sensitive skin.
If your skin can handle 25% AHA, you’ll love this mask. The 25% AHA is a blend of tartaric, lactic, citric, and glycolic acids, plus the 2% BHA (salicylic acid). There are also potent antioxidants to condition and soothe, hydrating ingredients like sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, and brightening ingredients like chickpea flour and niacinamide. All that’s to say dull skin doesn’t stand a chance. Like all Drunk Elephant products, the formula is created with all skin types in mind (including sensitive) and is pH-balanced at the ideal level to be efficacious and non-irritating. That said, it’s no joke. The tingling sensation is real, and if you have sensitive skin (like I do), I would recommend doing it at night and starting slowly with 10 to 15 minutes before working up to the full 20. Regardless of how long you leave it on, you’ll see and feel a difference immediately.
For a gentler approach, try getting your acid fix with a hefty dose of watermelon. This overnight mask and K-beauty phenomenon is a hybrid of hydrating hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate and exfoliating AHAs (glycolic and lactic) and fruit enzymes. It tones and clarifies skin, clearing away dead, rough surface cells, thus making way for the hydrating benefits to nourish and plump skin. All the while, watermelon extract (a potent anti-inflammatory and hydrator) soothes skin and delivers essential vitamins. Plus, the lightweight, bouncy gel with a slight cooling sensation feels like a treat. And yes, that Millennial Pink color is solely from the watermelon extract.
This three-step system is the at-home version of the number one facial at the Ole Henriksen spa. And while we’ve never experienced said facial ourselves, we’re willing to bet the results of this system rival those of the real deal. First, you polish with an almond microdermabrasion scrub, then, you peel with an AHA-rich lemon peel, and finally, you soothe with a chamomile clay mask. You’ll see a difference right away, and by the end of the six weekly treatments, you’ll basically have new skin. Tip: If you’re liking the results, stop after four weeks of treatments and save the remaining two for when your complexion needs a boost. Do it at night. Your skin may look a little pink at first, but that will subside by morning. Unlike most of the other acid treatments on this list, this one isn’t recommended for acneic skin. It’s a little too potent (especially the microdermabrasion step) for active breakouts.
These peel pads, which come to us by way of Korea, combine chemical exfoliation (with three different AHAs: tartaric, glycolic, and lactic acid) and manual exfoliation. The pads, which are soaked in exfoliating acids and vitamin C–rich citrus fruit extract to lighten dark spots and hyperpigmentation, have two sides. One side has a crisscross pattern in the gauze—use that first to break up dead skin. Then flip it over to the soft, quilted side to wipe away any remaining debris. The combination ensures the active ingredients penetrate deeply, promoting clearer, smoother, brighter skin.
Both of M-61’s treatment pads, PowerSpot and PowerGlow, combine salicylic and glycolic acid to exfoliate skin, helping improve tone, texture, and clarity and penetrate pores, dissolving buildup and reducing the appearance of enlarged pores. They’re gentle enough to use every day (though sensitive skin types may want to work up to that with the PowerGlow Peel). However, I like to use PowerSpot whenever I feel new breakouts coming on. I’m generally not a big fan of spot treatments, but a swipe of this stuff stops new blemishes in their tracks and speeds up the healing process for existing ones. Unlike a lot of acne and spot treatments, these aren’t drying—probably thanks in no small part to the camphor, cucumber, chamomile, and aloe vera.
Whether via mask, serum, overnight mask, peel pad, or three-step system, (acid) teamwork makes the dream work.
Up next: The difference between AHA and BHA.