When you think of the word “acids,” what comes to mind? To some, they might think about a container in a laboratory with a sign that says “Danger” or “Warning” on it. Others might think about a potent liquid they’ve seen in the movies that can burn through the toughest of metals. For skincare lovers, the acids that we think about are the ones that can help reduce inflammation, remove dead skin cells, and leave our skin healthy and camera-ready. Yet, there’s one question that many of us have in mind but we haven’t asked aloud: Can I mix more than one acid into my skincare routine?
Luckily, Laura Cline, Youth to the People’s Senior Director of Product Development and Education, has the answer to this commonly-asked question, along with her expert knowledge on how skincare acids work and how to properly use them to yield amazing results.
Let’s start here: What is the function of acids in skincare?
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are the most common acids in skincare, designed to chemically exfoliate the skin. Some popular AHAs are lactic acid, glycolic acid, and mandelic acid. For BHAs, we often think of salicylic, tropic, and trethocanic acids. AHAs and BHAs are our besties, but they have different personalities and functions.
“AHAs have a larger molecular size, which is more gentle on the skin and gives you more of a surface level exfoliation,” Cline says. “Whereas something like a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) with a smaller molecular size can actually penetrate into the pores and give you a little bit more exfoliation.”
There are also hydrating acids such as hyaluronic acid which helps penetrate and hydrate the skin by locking in 1,000 times its weight in water.
“Hyaluronic acid is something that you would put on that qualifies as a humectant,” Cline says. “It attracts water and gives your skin the ability to hang on to water.” It’s a natural hydrator and it’s one of the reasons why your skin feels so good after applying the Superberry Hydrate + Dream Mask .
Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: can we mix multiple acids into our skincare routines?
The answer is yes—but it depends on the dose and several factors.
“You only have so much skin,” Cline says. “An average adult makes a new set of cells every 28-30 days. You really do need to use exfoliants to help with your natural cell turnover process, but depending on your age, where you live, your environment, your lifestyle, your skin is affected differently.”
With this in mind, Cline recommends getting to know your skin better to understand its needs and how to properly find the right ingredients and combos for your skincare routine.
What acids can you combine?
According to Cline, AHAs and BHAs work beautifully together to help reduce hyperpigmentation , reduce excess oil production, and improve the overall texture of the skin, especially for people with oily skin. Cline advises avoiding really high concentrations of AHAs and BHAs because at too high of doses, they can over-exfoliate the skin and damage the moisture barrier.
Cline personally loves to use both the Mandelic Acid + Superfood Unity Exfoliant , which is a super gentle solution that contains 3% AHA, 2% BHA, and 1% PHA, and the Kombucha + 11% AHA Exfoliation Power Toner , but not on the same day . She recommends using the Unity Exfoliant in the morning and Kombucha Toner the following night, allowing the skin to rest in between. So, yes, you can exfoliate with an AHA and BHA on alternating days (and please, please, please wear sunscreen !)
Hyaluronic acid can be paired with anything, especially AHAs and BHAs. When it comes to chemical exfoliation, it’s really easy to over-exfoliate if the proportions are off, and hyaluronic acids help soothe irritated skin. Hyaluronic acid helps retain moisture so your skin won’t dry out from using potentially irritating active ingredients (such as retinol ).
Which ingredients should I avoid combining with acids?
While ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and retinoids are the perfect power duo for combating hyperpigmentation, pairing them with AHAs/BHAs can be super abrasive on the skin and cause a lot of irritation.
“I would steer clear if you don’t know what is the derivative of retinol,” Cline says. “You don’t use them right on top of each other unless you’re doing a spot treatment and you really, really need it and you know you’re not sensitive to it.”
BHAs like salicylic acid and acne treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide individually work well to combat acne; however, when the two are combined, it’s a recipe for disaster. Both ingredients have exfoliating effects, so over-exfoliating the skin can lead to flaking and redness.
Be mindful of your skin’s reaction to mixing acids. If you notice excess peeling, redness, irritation, and dryness on the skin, cut back on the usage.
You can also book a free 15-minute skincare session consultation with one of our YTTP education experts to review your skincare routine and see what works best for your skin.
Written by Jasely Molina for Youth To The People