Are You Overdoing It With This Skin Care Ingredient?

Photo: Lee Jenkins/Trunk Archive

If you say it out loud, the mere idea of using acid on your face sounds insane. But in reality, the best skincare is full of the stuff.  If you’ve tried an alpha-hydroxy mask or a glycolic-acid lotion, you know that the results speak for themselves: brighter, smoother, softer skin. These days, acids are everywhere, from in-office peels to night creams that promise to reveal a sparkling complexion. (Most of us probably have acid-containing products in our medicine cabinet.) The question is, can you use too much?

Joanna Vargas, a celebrity facialist who counts Julianne Moore and Rachel Weisz among her clients, understands why so many women are hooked on these products. “People find acids rewarding immediately,” she says. “Acids provide a bit of instant gratification. You get immediate results like resurfacing, cleaner pores, and a nice glow.” That, plus the stinging sensation on the skin, leads people to think that acids are “working.”

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That may be true, but—surprise!— there’s a downside. With acids, it’s easy to go overboard. “I think women think ‘more is more,’” Vargas says. “With acids, you really have to be careful.” That’s because they reveal newer skin—which is what creates that fresh, glow everyone wants.

Unfortunately, our skin can’t produce new cells fast enough to keep up with constant exfoliation. “It’s a major issue,” Vargas says. “The skin thins as we age already, so a big risk is peeling away the layers of skin faster than collagen can grow.”

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So, is it time to drop acid? Not completely, says Vargas—but, she adds, acids shouldn’t be part of your everyday skin-care regimen. “If you use [acids] more frequently, like in a daily cleanser, you risk thinning out the skin over time,” she says. “Once a week is more than enough.” Go for lactic over glycolic if you have sensitive skin, she says, and don’t be tempted to keep peeling. Too much of a good thing, as it turns out, is decidedly not good for your skin. 

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