Best Acid Skin Treatments & Peels – Your Guide


Cosmetic Consultant Dr Rabia Malik Reveals Which Acids Work Best for Different Skin Problems

Don’t be afraid of acids to take care of your skin

If you’ve ever watched the scene where Samantha gets a chemical peel in Sex and the City, you’re probably avoiding anything acidic like the plague.

But cosmetic consultant Dr Rabia Malik wants to put you at ease.

“Peels aren’t like they were in the 80s and 90s,” she explains.

“They are very effective and underestimated. What we use has become much more refined. Next-generation acids do more than just exfoliate. They can erase sun damage, plump up wrinkles and banish acne.

With that in mind, we asked Dr Malik for a masterclass on acids.

Samantha from Sex and the City gets chemical peel



Salicylic: Ideal for acne

Salicylic acid is an oil soluble beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and it can help prevent pore clogging and regulate oil production.

A study by Clinical Therapeutics showed it to be excellent for reducing rashes.

“Salicylic acid enters the sebaceous glands,” says Dr. Malik. “It helps regulate sebum production and dissolves the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together.

“But it can be quite drying and is generally recommended if you have very oily skin.”

TO TRY: CosMedix Purity Clean Exfoliating Cleanser, £ 29.50 for 150ml, Or Malin and Goetz Salicylic Gel, £ 19 for 15ml,

Mandelic: Ideal for wrinkles

This acid is derived from bitter almonds. Cosmetic dermatology research has shown it to be as effective as glycolic in treating sun damage, but much milder than other alpha hydroxy acids.

“Mandelic peels can help with fine lines because they stimulate collagen production,” says Dr. Malik. “Not only does it exfoliate the top layer of the skin, it encourages a new layer of skin cells to grow.”

TO TRY: Philosophy Microdelivery Peel, £ 59.50, Or Pixi Peel and Polish, £ 24, available at

Mandelic acid is the best for banishing wrinkles


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Hyaluronic: Ideal for hydration

“Hyaluronic acid is a sugar molecule found in the connective tissue of joints and skin,” says Dr. Malik.

“It holds over 1,000 times its weight in water, making it the ultimate moisturizer. As we age, the production of hyaluronic acid decreases, but you can use topical forms instead. It helps draw water to your cells, rehydrating them.

It shows up in everything from foundations to lipsticks.

TO TRY: La Roche-Posay HyaluB5 Hyaluronic Acid Serum, £ 37 for 30ml, Or the Super Facialist Hyaluronic Acid Firming Face Serum, £ 16 for 30ml,

Lactic: Best all-rounder

A lactic acid peel removes toxins, dead cells and debris.

“It can also stimulate collagen production and hydrate the skin,” says Dr. Malik.

“It’s an alpha hydroxy acid and it’s a good choice even for sensitive skin because it tends to be less irritating.

“It’s as gentle as lactic acid, is derived from milk, and can even out skin tone and help improve hyperpigmentation in the skin.”

TO TRY: Elemis Dynamic Resurfacing Facial Pads, £ 39 for 60, Or Eucerin Dermo Pure Scrub, £ 9.80 per 100 ml,

Lactic acid is the best all-rounder



Polyhydroxy: Ideal for sun exposure

Polyhydroxy acids or PHA can be used by people with conditions such as rosacea and dermatitis.

Research in dermatological surgery shows that it can protect cells from free radicals that accelerate aging and caused by the sun. Look for gluconolactone and lactobionic on the label.

TO TRY: NeoStrata Bio-Moisturizer, £ 28.99, 40 g, . Or Zelens PHA + Bio Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads, £ 65 for 50,

Retinoic: Ideal for a new face

“Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A,” says Dr. Malik. “When absorbed into cells, it turns into retinoic acid and can achieve great results with problems such as wrinkles and acne.”

Research in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology indicates that it can strengthen blood vessels, thereby increasing flow to the surface of the skin.

It stimulates cell renewal and eliminates acne. “But it can cause irritation if not used properly, so it’s not for beginners,” says Dr Malik.

TO TRY: Indeed Labs Retinol Reface, £ 15.99 for 30ml, Or Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil, £ 43 for 10ml,

Ascorbic: Ideal for lightening

“Ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C,” says Dr. Malik. “He’s the superstar because it’s pure. Some other forms are derivative and less potent.

It is an excellent antioxidant capable of neutralizing free radical damage caused by pollution and UV rays from the sun. But it is also essential for the synthesis of collagen, which gives your skin its rebound. “Vitamin C can lighten the skin and improve its elasticity,” says Dr. Malik.

TO TRY: Kiehl’s Powerful Wrinkle Reducing Concentrate, £ 49.40 for 50ml, Or the Exuviance AF Vitamin C20 serum capsules, £ 59 for 60,


Some acidic peels are not recommended if you are pregnant or if you are taking other medications, such as Roaccutane. They also make your skin more vulnerable to UV rays, so wait a few days before getting out in the sun. Talk to your healthcare provider before treatment if you have conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea.

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