“Citric acid can do lots for your skin, but here’s what you need to know if you’re going to use it.”
If you’re anything like us, citric acid probably sounds to you more like an ingredient that belongs in a smoothie than in a face cream. But with a number of different benefits, it should be on that skin care ingredient list, too. Here’s the deal with this acid.
Can we talk about acids in general?
For sure. Citric acid belongs to a larger category of acids known as AHAs, alpha-hydroxy acids (other common AHAs include glycolic, lactic, and malic acids). AHAs are a popular choice in skin care for several reasons. Acids exfoliate the skin; by dissolving the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together, they help to leave your skin smoother, more even, and more radiant. Granted, the word ‘acid’ can sound scary, especially if you have sensitive skin. While not all acids are created equal, AHAs generally tend to be slightly gentler and less irritating than others. It’s also important to note that it’s not only the type of acid being used that matters, but also the concentration. For example, the amount of AHAs you’ll get in an at-home serum is going to be drastically different than how much is in an in-office chemical peel.
OK, so what about citric acid?
True to its name, it’s present in citrus fruits—oranges, lemons, grapefruit—as well as berries. When it comes to citric acid benefits, it’s obviously a great exfoliant (to our previous point), for brightening a lackluster complexion. But, unlike many other acids, citric acid is unique because it also has antioxidant properties. This makes it a great companion in the fight against external aggressors that generally can wreak havoc on your skin basically the second you step outside (we’re talking about you, sun and pollution). Citric acid in skin care is common, not only for these reasons, but also for formulation purposes. Because it’s an easy way to help adjust the pH of products and make them more shelf-stable, it’s a fairly common ingredient out there.
Is citric acid safe for skin?
Yes, but just be cautious, especially if you have sensitive skin. The thing with citric acid is that it can be intense. Let’s put it this way. Say you overdo it on self-tanner—a quick Google search will tell you that scrubbing your skin with a lemon can help remove it. That’s citric acid doing its thing. Point being, if it can take off self-tanner, it’s clearly pretty strong. The other issue with citric acid is that the Internet is full of homemade DIY beauty recipes touting it; you can even buy it in powder form to add to products. Nothing against going the DIY route but be cautious in this case. The unwanted side effects of too much citric acid include stinging, burning, and irritation—and those are particularly likely if you have sensitive skin. Sound like you? Stick to products that aren’t DIY, like a citric acid serum or citric acid cream. And if you’re still a little nervous, you can always take any product for a test run by applying it on your forearm for a few days and watching for any irritation that crops up. If you do have sensitive skin, as with any potent ingredient or product, it’s also not a bad idea to start using it gradually, and slowly work your way up to using it more frequently as your skin gets used to it.
How do I know if I should be using it?
If your skin is oiler or you have more prominent pores, citric acid can be a good pick for you, especially because it also has astringent properties. And for exfoliating purposes, it’s also a good option. But, to our point above, if your skin is sensitive or easily irritated, you may want to think about passing on this one. Confused? Don’t be. The Skinsei holistic diagnostic tool has got you covered, taking into account everything from your skin type to your diet (yes, it matters!) to help figure out exactly which products are best for you – including those with citric acid as part of their formulas.