You probably haven't yet heard of succinic acid. (To be totally honest, we hadn't heard of it until relatively recently, either.) But mark our words—you'll soon be hearing a lot about this buzzy new ingredient. Why? It's one of those rare unicorns in the skincare world, offering a variety of different benefits, including some pretty powerful acne-fighting abilities without causing irritation. Ahead, Gretchen Frieling, MD, a triple board-certified dermatopathologist in the Boston area; cosmetic chemist David Petrillo, founder of Perfect Image; and Mark Curry, co-founder and lead chemist of The Inkey List explain exactly what succinic acid is and what it does, and why you need to keep your eyes peeled for this up-and-coming skincare superstar.
Type of ingredient: Succinic acid is an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory compound.
Main benefits: Has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and soothing effects. Offers antioxidant protection as well as anti-aging properties, and hydrates.
Who should use it: Because it has such a variety of benefits, it's safe for all skin types, including sensitive skin, says Frieling.
How often can you use it: This depends on the particular product, but generally speaking, daily.
Works well with: It's often paired with hyaluronic acid to boost the hydrating effects, notes Petrillo. It also works well with other anti-acne ingredients, such as salicylic acid and sulfur, adds Curry.
Don't use with: According to Petrillo, there are no ingredients known to have a negative interaction with succinic acid.
What Is Succinic Acid?
"Succinic acid is an antimicrobial compound derived from amber or sugar cane, but it is also naturally found in plant and animal tissues," explains Frieling. Don't be thrown off by the word acid; it's not an exfoliating acid, like an alpha- or beta-hydroxy acid, notes Curry, who adds that it's best to consider succinic acid in the same camp as hyaluronic acid. (It's part of what makes it so gentle and effective for all skin types, more on that in a moment.) And, as mentioned, it's still flying under the radar: "Mainstream science hasn't caught on to this ingredient yet. With more scientific studies on the efficacy of succinic acid in skincare as an anti-aging and acne-fighting treatment, it will become more and more popular," says Petrillo. Curry agrees, noting that he thinks the litany of varied benefits that succinic acid offers could ultimately lead to it being on par with retinoids and vitamin C when it comes to efficacy and popularity. To that point...
Benefits of Succinic Acid for Skin
While it's largely being touted as an acne-fighting ingredient (and it is, in fact, very effective at battling blemishes), succinic acid is a major multitasker.
•Has antimicrobial properties: According to Curry, succinic acid has been shown to inhibit the growth of both bacteria and fungi that can lead to various forms of acne.
•Is an effective anti-inflammatory: Succinic acid's anti-inflammatory effects are also beneficial when it comes to treating acne, specifically deep, inflammatory cystic acne. It's also a helpful ingredient for those battling inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, given that it can help calm the skin and promote wound healing, adds Frieling. "While succinic acid alone won't treat any of these conditions, it can certainly help alleviate visible symptoms," she says. Oh, and the other nice thing? The ingredient also has some analgesic effects, notes Curry, making it a good option for helping to relieve at least some of the discomfort associated with acne and these other issues.
•Hydrates the skin: Succinic acid is very similar structurally to our skin's own lipids and is an effective hydrator, says Frieling. (In an interesting twist, she notes that it also helps to control and balance excess sebum production again, which is helpful for those with oily or acne-prone skin.) Curry agrees, noting that it helps to condition and soften the skin, while Petrillo points out that these benefits are even further enhanced when it's paired with hyaluronic acid.
•Offers antioxidant protection: Its antioxidant benefits and ability to ward off free-radical-induced damage are just one reason why succinic acid can be an effective anti-aging ingredient, says Frieling. And the other reason?
•Accelerates cellular renewal: "At the cellular level, succinic acid accelerates metabolic processes that promote skin rejuvenation, and can ultimately, help increase skin firmness and elasticity," Frieling explains.
Side Effects of Succinic Acid
Long story short, there really aren't any. Curry points out that succinic acid is very inert and unlikely to cause any issues, while Petrillo calls it, "calming, hydrating, and safe for even sensitive skin." That being said, as with any new ingredient, you can always try starting out slowly, or doing a patch test on your inner forearm to be extra safe.
How to Use It
Ideally, it's best to look for succinic acid in a lightweight serum or treatment; the molecule is too small to be able to effectively penetrate through heavy creams and oils, notes Petrillo. Follow product directions when it comes to usage and application, particularly if it's an anti-acne product.
The Best Products With Succinic Acid
It's currently challenging to find products that use succinic acid as a key ingredient, given that there's still not a lot known about it, says Petrillo. But keep your eyes peeled because we have a feeling a lot more are coming. In the meantime, here are a few that our experts say are worth considering.
"This is a great hydrating serum," says Petrillo, who lauds it both for the lightweight formula that allows the succinic acid to better penetrate, and the fact that it's combined with hyaluronic acid to amp up the hydrating effects.
Frieling recommends this lightweight treatment, which combines lactic, salicylic, and succinic acids to help keep pores clear and bacteria at bay. Also in the mix? Hydrating squalane.
A good choice for very dry or very sensitive skin, this uses succinic acid to enhance the humectant function of the glycerin in the formula and the emollient function of the squalane, explains Frieling. It's also fragrance-, alcohol-, and colorant-free, and has a surprisingly light and whipped texture, despite how moisturizing it is.
A 2% concentration of succinic acid is paired with a combination of other heavy-hitting acne-fighters to help clear blemishes fast in this newbie. "The succinic acid helps unclog pores and decrease oil levels, salicylic acid gently exfoliates, and sulfur reduces excess oil without overdrying the skin," says Curry. There's also hyaluronic acid added for additional hydration.
For those looking to reap the anti-aging benefits of succinic acid, this night cream is choice. "It blends three key acids: succinic, lactic, and palmitic acid. Together, they boost skin rejuvenation at night, helping to repair any cell damage and reduce signs of aging," says Petrillo.