You want to put acid on my face? The use of acid in skin care and facials

Beauty trends can be downright shocking. Snail slime, penis stem cells, fishy pedicures, and boa constrictor massages… what will they think of next?


The use of acids in facial care has been around for ages–literally. Yet it sounds like something horrific. I’m sure we’ve all seen the plot line of the character who is horrifically disfigured and even blinded thanks to having acid thrown in their face.

Don’t worry–acids (in the hands of a trained and licensed professional) are not only effective for many conditions, they are SAFE.

Let’s start with the basics: What is an acid?

Think back to high school science. There is a pH scale that you might also recognize as an adult if you have a pool or a fish tank that you care for. You have acids, and you have bases. Sound familiar?

Acids usually have a pH of 7 or less.

There are many types of acids out there prized for improving the look of the skin.

How are acids used in skin care?

Acids are ingredients that are used for skin care purposes in a variety of products from home care treatments to chemical peels.

They lower the pH of the skin which can have several effects.

Often they are desired for their ability to “eat” (dissolve) the glue (bonds) that holds dead skin cells on the surface together. This is called exfoliation.

Acids can also have other desirable effects on the skin besides exfoliation. Deep cleansing of pores, killing of bacteria, reduction of pigmentation, rebalancing oil production of the skin, antioxidant action/free-radical protection, and brightening the skin are a few.

What types of acids are used?

In order to make sense of the types of acids, which I’ll get into soon, it’s good to know how they are categorized.

Designation of Acid

There are three primary designations for acid. AHA, BHA, and Vitamin C.

AHA, or alpha-hydroxy acid is the most common type of acid.

BHA, or beta-hydroxy acid is what salicylic acid is often classified as.

Vitamin C, or citric acid, usually has its own category.


Let’s talk about another quick callback to high school science.

There are some substances that are water-soluble, and others that are oil-soluble. Remember trying to mix oil and water together?

Acids that are water-soluble are going to work more on the surface of the skin, whereas oil-soluble acids are going to be pulled deeper into the pores which are more oily.

AHAs are water-soluble. BHAs are fat-soluble. (I doubt this bit of trivia will come in handy for you, but if you’re ever on Jeopardy it could! Maybe think A = Agua and B = Butter?)


Source of Acid

Acid can be found naturally from many types of plant-based materials are are extracted in many ways. Some acids are laboratory created.

Lemon, for an example, is a source of citric acid. That said–you cannot just slice up a lemon and rub it on you if you want the best results. (Though… Anyone else use this in their hair for a cheap version of “Sun In” on summer break?)

Further down I’ll list many types of acids used in skin products and chemical peels as well as their potential sources.

Strength of Acid

Acids can be found in a variety of strengths.

However, a high percentage of one type of acid may actually be more gentle than a lesser percentage of a more active acid.

This is one of the MANY reasons why you shouldn’t just order a chemical peel or straight acid from the internet. Yes, technically you can find them out there; that does not mean they are safe to use. Burning, scarring, and permanent pigmentation are all potential side effects for the home user.

Licensed estheticians who perform chemical peels are trained in how to use them safely across skin types and conditions. There are always risks involved with any treatment, which your trained professional will educate you about in depth, as well as how they will mitigate the drawbacks, and give you thorough instructions on how to prepare for a peel and care for your skin afterwards.

Some acids and peels are so strong you MUST go to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon to receive them. These are often much deeper, much more traumatic, require a lot more screening, more tedious prep, and have extended downtime afterwards.

What kind of skin care products have acid?

Acids can be found in almost every type of skin care product on the market from cleansers, to toners, to serums, to moisturizers, to masks, to exfoliants.

Again, not all acids are meant for removing dead skin. They can help in quite a lot of other ways as well as creating synergistic effects with other ingredients.

How are acids applied to the face during a chemical peel?

Just as there are many types of acids on the market, there are many types of chemical peels. Different formulations, protocols, and application methods exist.

At Mad Science Massage & Spa we have two main chemical peels. They are both unlike anything else on the market and therefore are not comparable directly to what you may be used to.

The Porcelain Peel is applied to prepared skin, allowed to sit for 3-5 minutes, and then gently massaged in from 5-40 minutes. (Longer times are generally only used on very thick skin such as various areas of the body. I know my elbows needed it and now feel softer than they have in my whole adulthood!)

The Rouge Peel is applied to prepared skin and left sit from 3-5 minutes. (Very experienced peelers may work up to a longer time frame.)

What happens after a skin peel?

Every chemical peel is different. The depth of the peel (remember, as estheticians in Florida we do lighter peels; go to a Dermatologist or Plastic Surgeon if you want a deeper peel), the amount of time it is left on the skin, how prepared the skin is, how well you take care of it after, what kinds of medical conditions you had… all these things can effect what happens next.

A lot of peels will create a shedding and flaking effect. This is seen as desirable by some clients. You can see that “it’s working” when sheets of skin are falling off your face. VISIBLE SHEDDING IS NOT REQUIRED FOR A PEEL TO BE SUCCESSFUL.

Some peels have downtime. This is usually time you take off of work and stay indoors to recover. For most medium to deep peels this is 7-10 days.

None of our peels at Mad Science Massage & Spa in Sarasota have downtime. It’s nice to have amazing effects without taking time off of work or hiding. Again–we urge you to try the least invasive and least traumatic skin procedures first, then slowly escalate. This preserves the health of the skin and long-term functionality of its metabolism and balance.

The Porcelain Peel usually does not “shed” or “flake” (we say you peel invisibly, though the rare person will flake a little) whereas the Rouge may. Redness usually fade within hours of the Porcelain whereas Rouge may take a day and has a healthy red glow, almost like you got some sun. Again though, it varies.

All peels do have one thing in common: YOU MUST PROTECT AND PAMPER YOUR SKIN AFTERWARDS.

The list of acids

This is NOT meant to be a full list of acids that you might find in skin care. More of an overview to familiarize you with some common terms.

If there is a link, it means there is a longer article available with more details. Enjoy!

Citric Acid – The reason this acid is used in products is usually to create a buffering effect on other ingredients. On its own it isn’t the strongest acid. (That said–this is what I use at home when it’s time to change the color of my hair and I want to remove some of the previous temporary fun color from my greys. I get it in bulk at Richard’s in the herb section. It’s also super useful in making bath your own bombs.)

Glycolic Acid – This is a form of AHA and it’s one of the most researched acids in skin care. Has many therapeutic effects depending on its use. Small in size, allowing it to penetrate deeply.

Glycyrrhetinic Acid – Sourced from licorice root. It’s one of the main reasons why the extract is so powerful in calming the skin and minimizing sensitization. Anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-pigment, soothing, and anti-bacterial.

Hyaluronic Acid – Often used for its ability to moisturize, hold in moisture, and create plumpness.

Lactic Acid – There are several forms of Lactic acid out there, not all are derived from milk. L-Lactic acid is the form you want.

Mandelic Acid – Great for sensitive skin, boosts collagen production, helps reduce unwanted pigment, exfoliating, has anti-bacterial properties, and balances oil production.

Pyruvic Acid – Found in many fruits and fermentations. Stimulates your ability to produce hyaluronic acid, stimulates collagen and elastin production, reduce dead skin cells, and is antiseptic. Helps to restore and rebuild the skin’s underlying health.

Salicylic Acid – Non-irritating exfoliator, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, reaches deep in the lining of the pores to control and reduce breakouts.

Are you ready to move forward with some acid on the face? Not so scared now, we hope. Book your chemical peel consultation online or call 941-676-3433 to schedule an appointment with our licensed esthetician.



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