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All About Acids: Everything You Need to Know, From Ascorbic Acid to Salicylic Acid

Experts explain it all
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Do you ever feel a little bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of skin care ingredients you're expected to know about? Acids alone constitute a vast category of products, ranging from ultra-gentle skin-soothers like hyaluronic acid to more stringent, acne-eradicating varieties like salicylic acid — and they raise so many questions. Just how powerful are they? Are they going to freak your skin out? What the heck do they actually do to your skin? They can be kind of a scary — especially when used in conjunction with words like "resurfacing" or "peel."

In reality, acids are not something to be feared — in fact, they can work wonders on your complexion if used correctly. We talked to a variety of top skin care experts and asked them to explain the ins and outs of some of the most oft-mentioned acids in skin care today. Read on for a handy guide of skin care acids and some of our favorite uses for them.

Image via Imaxtree

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Salicylic acid
According to Dove Body Wash and Beauty Bar's dermatologist, Dr. Mona Gohara, salicylic acid is "one of acne's biggest foes!" She also notes that the popular beta hydroxy acid can "cut through pore-clogging sebum like no other." Olga Lorencin, celebrity esthetician and founder of Olga Lorencin Transformative Skin Care, agrees, adding that it's "also great for reducing inflammation in the skin."

If you like salicylic acid, try: First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Acne Clearing Pads with White Clay, $30

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Glycolic acid
Gohara namechecks glycolic acid as "one of the least irritating and most effective" of all the exfoliating acids. "I love it for general skin health or to target unwanted lines, acne or hyperpigmentation," she says.

If you like glycolic acid, try: Tula Pro-Glycolic 10% pH Resurfacing Gel, $34

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Lactic acid
As you may have guessed from the name, lactic acid is derived from milk. One of the things that makes it such a popular skin care ingredient is that it exfoliates and hydrates at the same time. And, much like glycolic acid, it's gentle — and "great for those with sensitive skin issues." If acids are something you've always steered clear of, you may want to give this one a try, as Lorencin notes that it has "very minimal to no side effects." Get ready for a "glowing and radiant complexion!"

If you like lactic acid, try: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment, $105

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Citric acid
Though it's something you might notice from your favorite sodas (like Diet Coke), citric acid is also quite popular as a skin care ingredient. "Citric acids are alpha hydroxy acids that are derived from citrus," says board-certified celebrity dermatologist Dr. Anna Guanche. "They exfoliate and renew the skin and in higher percentages, they can be effective as a peel."

If you like citric acid, try: Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA Resurfacing Night Serum, $58

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