Ah, the joys of combination skin: Thanks to your genetic gifts, you might be dealing with clogged pores, breakouts, and dryness all at the same time, making treating your skin a bit of a battle. As a combo-skin type myself, trust me when I say that my skin forever changed for the better as soon as I introduced gentle chemical exfoliation into my routine—that is, using products with alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids three nights a week.
According to celebrity facialist Renée Rouleau, using skin acids produces a myriad of results from which combo skin types will especially benefit—these include smoother skin, clearer pores, fewer breakouts, increased collagen production, a more even skin tone, and reduced dryness and flakiness. "Exfoliation should be the main focus of a home care program," Rouleau says.
AHAs and BHAs both produce these benefits: The main difference between them is that AHAs address just the skin's surface (which is particularly good for wrinkles and flaky dry skin), while BHAs work at the surface and within the pore (which is great for breakouts). Due to the challenges combo skin types deal with, using both types of acids at the same time can be a real game changer.
So what AHAs and BHAs should combo skin types look for, specifically? With Rouleau's help, we listed five, as well as our favorite skincare products that contain them. Keep scrolling to learn more about the five skin acids every combination type should try.
1. Glycolic Acid
If all the AHAs on the market were Kardashian sisters, glycolic acid would be Kim. The ingredient has the most research behind it and the longest history of proven results for different skin types and ages—it's undoubtedly the star of the AHA family. Glycolic acid can come from sugarcane, but because the synthetic form is easier to stabilize, that's what you'll find in most skincare. A small molecule, it penetrates the skin really well for maximum cell turnover and also encourages the skin to naturally hydrate itself. You can use glycolic acid alone or in combination with other AHAs, and it's available over-the-counter in a number of different concentrations, starting at 5% and going up to around 40%.
2. Lactic Acid
Lactic acid is like glycolic's less aggressive sister (Kylie?). The molecule has the same benefits, but it's bigger, so it penetrates slower, meaning it might be a better option if glycolic for whatever reason doesn't agree with your skin. Like glycolic acid, you'll usually find synthetic lactic acid in most skincare products, though it can also be derived from milk.
3. Malic Acid
Malic acid is a bigger molecule than either glycolic or lactic, but it can still penetrate the skin to exfoliate; plus, it contains the benefits of antioxidants. It's not seen as quite as effective as lactic or glycolic in terms of cell turnover, so you'll usually find it combined with one or both of the other two—this offers the added benefit of multi-dimensional exfoliation. Sometimes you'll find apple-derived malic acid in skincare, though again, it's usually synthetic.
4. Mandelic Acid
There isn't as much research into mandelic acid, so you won't find it as commonly, but because it's the biggest molecule of all the AHAs, it could be a good option for super-sensitive skin. It also has been shown in some cases to encourage the skin to produce more oil, making it a better choice for when your skin is having a dry moment.
5. Salicylic Acid
If BHAs agree better with your skin, or if you're just looking to focus a little more on pore-clearing, try a product containing salicylic acid. Because the ingredient penetrates not only the surface of the skin but also the pores, it's especially great for reducing breakouts and inflammation without drying out the skin.