A Dermatologist Breaks Down the Best Acids to Use in Every Decade of Your Life

It's all connected.

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If you're a newbie, acids may initially sound like a scary thing to incorporate into your skincare routine—especially if you have sensitive skin. But, acids are powerful ingredients that can fight off annoying ailments like hyperpigmentation, sun spots, fine lines, dryness, and more. Admittedly, there are a lot of acids, and each of them works differently depending on your specific skin concern. So how are you supposed to know which to depend on? 

As we age, our skin and bodies transform with us, leading to different concerns during each stage. The good thing is, incorporating acids into your skincare routine can help you every step of the way. We enlisted board-certified dermatologist, Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, to break down the most beneficial acids for every decade. Read on for the ultimate guide to acids for every stage of your skincare journey.

In Your 20s

Kendall Jenner; skincare acids
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The number one skin complaint Imahiyerobo-Ip gets from her 20-something patients is about acne. I'm a victim of adult acne that didn't hit me until I was 23, so I relate to this on so many levels.

"It’s a myth that acne is something that only teenagers deal with. Furthermore, many people inadvertently worsen their acne through the inconsistent use of prescription acne medicines and by using harsh products that strip the skin of natural oils," she explains. 

These should be your go-to acids:  

  • Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is an oil soluble molecule that can penetrate deeply into pores and oil glands to help with oily skin and acne. It helps target acne because it exfoliates skin, reduces inflammation, regulates sebum and is antibacterial. It can additionally help with pigmentation issues.
  • Azelaic acid: "If you suffer from redness, especially related to rosacea and acne, azelaic acid could benefit you. This acid is derived from grains and soothes irritated skin. Azelaic acid is also a powerful fighter of hyperpigmentation. The best news is that it is perfectly safe to be used during pregnancy; it works like a charm to fight acne and melasma."
Hydropeptide Redefining Serum Ultra Sheer Clearing Treatment
HydroPeptide Hydropeptide Redefining Serum $132.00

"Look for a powerful serum that contains both of these ingredients like HydroPeptide Redefining Serum," says Imahiyerobo-Ip. 

In Your 30s

Solange Knowles, Paris Fashion Week, skincare acids
Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/WireImage/Getty Images

Many people begin to notice subtle signs of aging in their 30s like fine lines and wrinkles. Things like hyperpigmentation, melasma, and sunspots also might appear. To conquer these conditions, Imahiyerobo-Ip recommends depending on these acids: 

  • Retinoic acid: "Derived from vitamin A, retinoic acid is well known as an anti-aging powerhouse. This acid causes skin cell turnover and provides benefits of increased collagen production, clean pores, accelerated skin cell shedding, and evened out skin tone." Your skin may experience some temporary flaking as it builds tolerance and adjusts to this acid.
Differin Acne Treatment Gel
Differin Acne Treatment Gel $15.00
  • Glycolic acid: "Glycolic acid is the smallest molecule of the AHAs and readily absorbs into the skin, loosening the bond between dead skin cells, so that they can be swept away easily. As a result, it minimizes pores, smoothes texture and evens skin tone. Glycolic acid is also known to stimulate HA production. As a result, this acid is great for dry skin types, leaving the complexion plump bright and smooth," explains esthetician Rhea Souhleris Grous.
NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Wash
NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Wash $62.00

"If you are new to acids, I would recommend starting with a 5% glycolic acid product, such as NeoStrata's Foaming Glycolic Wash" suggests Imahiyerobo-Ip.

In Your 40s

Gabrielle Union, acid skincare
 Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images 

"At this point, exposure to environmental pollutants starts to take a toll on the skin, and antioxidants are very important. In addition, some women develop more sensitivity to skincare products," says Imahiyerobo-Ip. She recommends the following:

  • Lactic acid: "Gentle and effective, lactic acid will benefit those with sensitive skin. It exfoliates and softens lines and wrinkles in a much less irritating way than other acids." 
Hydropeptide 5X Power Peel Daily Resurfacing Pads
HydroPeptide 5X Power Peel Daily Resurfacing Pads $69.00

"These pads contain lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acid in a gentle yet effective blend that can be used for daily mild exfoliation," says Imahiyerobo-Ip. 

  • Ascorbic acid: "This is the synthetic version of vitamin C and is known to have antioxidant benefits as well as the ability to brighten skin and increase collagen."
Anti-Wrinkle Polish (1 fl. oz) and Plump Peel (1 fl. oz)
HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish and Plump Peel $78.00

"My go-to for a weekly vitamin C boost is HydroPeptide's Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel. It contains vitamin C–infused microdermabrasion crystals that help to brighten the skin and stimulate collagen production," says Imahiyerobo-Ip. 

In Your 50s+

Nicole Kidman, acid skincare
Graham Denholm/Getty Images

"In your 50s, physiological changes slow skin cell turnover, and as a result, you may notice significant skin dryness and loss of elasticity. Expression lines may become etched into your skin, and you may also notice rough, scaly, precancerous lesions developing," explains Imahiyerobo-Ip. The number one acid she suggests incorporating into your skin regimen is: 

  • Hyaluronic acid: "This acid is a moisture booster and can add volume when injected. A key in many moisturizers and fillers, hyaluronic acid is synthetically made to replicate a natural structural component of skin. When used as a cream or serum, hyaluronic acid ensures the skin will feel softer, and you will notice an improvement in the appearance of fine lines."
SkinCeuticals H.A. Intensifier Serum
SkinCeuticals H.A. Intensifier Serum $96.00

"Look for a product like SkinCeuticals H.A. Serum that combines this with vitamin C to assist in effective penetration," explains Imahiyerobo-Ip. 

Next, skincare tips when you are in your 30s.

Article Sources
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  1. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive reviewClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:455-461. doi:10.2147/CCID.S84765

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Skin care basics and types. Updated May 4, 2021.

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