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Glass dropper bottles representing derms recommendation for the best acids to use

Derms recommend the best acids to use when

Written by
Chloe James

Acids – whether we’re talking at-home or professional peels – can be overwhelming to a skincare newbie. The beauty community loves to preach how they’re powerful enough to tackle everything from acne to wrinkles. At the same time, the long list of acids and peels that all work differently – and treat different concerns – can be hard to wrap your head around.

With the help of Dr Rodainah Mhaidat of Leaders Aesthetic Center and Dr Kamal Al Naboulsi of Medhills Medical Center, we will teach you how to separate your salicylic acid from your TCA peels, and discover the right solution for your skin.

Find a clinic or practitioner near you and enjoy a risk-free booking process thanks to free in-clinic consultations and the option to pay in-clinic. Also, you can now split the cost of your treatment into four equal, interest-free instalments using Tabby.

Which acid is right for me?

Salicylic acid

Best for: Tackling oily skin

An excess of oil doesn’t just make skin look shiny (although that’s definitely part of the package). To combat the congestion and acne caused by too much sebum, Dr Rodainah recommends salicylic acid. She prefers to use it in the form of a face wash, especially if you’re struggling with a breakout. “This provides the most gentle exfoliation, so we can use it in the morning and evening,” she explains. “At the same time, it helps keep the pores open and unclogged, reducing your chances of acne.”

Glycolic acid

Best for: Fading hyperpigmentation

Glycolic acid has tiny molecules – smaller than any other at-home acid – so it can have a seriously dramatic impact on your cell turnover. That’s why it’s Dr Kamal’s top choice for fading hyperpigmentation, giving a “very monotonic look to the skin”, regardless of your skin type. It’s powerful stuff, so best kept to your evening routine – and no more than two or three times a week.

Lactic acid

Best for: Brightening skin

Another favourite for evening out skin tone. Dr Rodainah loves lactic acid’s brightening abilities, making it her go-to for “those who suffer from pigmentation or acne scars, and want glowing skin.” While it’s gentler than many other acids, it’s still best to go slow with this one. Start with one or two evenings per week, then slowly increase once your skin builds a tolerance.

Hyaluronic acid

Best for: Boosting hydration

Hydration is key – and in Dr Kamal’s eyes, there’s no better way to achieve it than with hyaluronic acid. “All patients need moisturiser,” he says. Anything containing hyaluronic acid – whether that’s a cream or a serum – is a “must” for dry and oily skin types alike. As it works by attracting and retaining the water that already exists in your skin, this is one of the few acids safe enough for daily use. Apply on slightly damp skin for best results.

Vitamin C

Best for: Improving your glow and increasing collagen

Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is one of skincare’s great multitaskers. Boosting collagen and your complexion’s overall glow are two of Dr Rodainah’s favourite uses, and she has very specific advice to ensure you get the most out of the ingredient: “use it in the morning prior to applying sunscreen, as it can work as an antioxidant during the day.”

And now for the chemical peels…

Think of chemical peels as your at-home acid’s stronger sibling. The theory is similar: your practitioner uses acid to remove dead skin cells, increase cell turnover, stimulate collagen production, and all those other glow-boosting functions. The only difference is that this acid is much more powerful than anything you could find on the shelves of Sephora – and can have much more dramatic results.

For this reason, it’s even more vital to ensure you’re picking the right acid for you. Your practitioner will be able to help with this (which, as Dr Rodainah stresses, is why it’s so important to go for a consultation first) but we can give you a good idea where to start…

Lactic acid peels

As a fruit acid, lactic acid is one of the gentlest around – making it ideal for minor concerns such as dullness or mild fine lines. Dr Rodainah loves this for anyone looking to boost their glow, refresh their skin, or improve brightness.

Salicylic acid peels

Salicylic acid is a marvel when it comes to exfoliating pores and taming breakouts. That’s why it’s the gold standard for medium-depth peels – Dr Rodainah’s favourite for oily skin, large pores, and hyperpigmentation. “The results are wonderful and will last for approximately six months,” she explains. However, for the sake of your skin’s long-term health, she recommends undergoing this peel in winter. “That way we can avoid any negative reactions from the sun.”

TCA peels

When damage is deep-set in the skin – such as melasma – Dr Kamal recommends an equally deep peel. He likes TCA (AKA trichloroacetic) peels in particular, as they “brighten the skin without a lot of obvious peeling.” Just remember to go heavy on the sunscreen after your session.

What else do I need to know?

For better and worse, acids are powerful stuff. Aftercare is vital for the health of your skin – something Dr Rodainah stresses to all of her patients. “The skin changes when we do chemical peeling,” she says. “That’s why we’re supposed to stay away from sources of heat and hydrate it from the inside out.”

Her list of everything you need to avoid after a professional peel includes saunas, sunbathing, steam, and swimming. But even if you opt to use an at-home acid, you still need to be cautious. SPF is a must – as is frequent reapplication. Not only will this protect the fresh, sensitive layers unearthed by exfoliation, but you’ll be able to reap even more benefits from your new skincare routine.

When it comes to results, chemical peels in a clinic will always trump at-home applications. And as with most things, the treatments you have professionally only serve to boost your bathroom routine and vice versa, so you can enjoy a glowing complexion all-year round. Happy peeling!

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