There is no shortage of ingredients when it comes to the skincare market. You can choose from an unlimited range of skincare ingredients according to skin concerns, conditions, and types. Alpha hydroxy acids get a lot of attention and hold a special place among the skincare superheroes. Citric acid is among the commonly seen AHA compounds used in a number of skincare products. Citric acid is often used for its unique properties and powerful benefits for the skin, which set it apart from other AHAs.
We have all come across skincare products with citric acid as an active component but may not be well-versed with it. If you’re intrigued to know why citric acid is considered a great skincare ingredient, how it works, and benefits the skin, keep on reading!
What is Citric Acid?
Citric acid is a member of the alpha hydroxy acid family and is widely used in skincare products. It is naturally sourced from various citrus fruits, particularly lemons, lime, grapefruits, and oranges. Citric acid was initially isolated from lemon juice by chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele.¹ It’s also worth noting that citric acid is also produced synthetically for use in skincare products. Citric acid can deliver various skin benefits when applied topically. It works as a chemical exfoliant, which removes dead skin and other impurities from the outer layer of the skin.
Benefits of Citric Acid for the Skin
Here are some of the reasons why you should consider adding citric acid skincare products to your skincare routine:
- Sloughs Off Dead Skin - We are all well aware of the significance of regularly sloughing away dead skin by using topical skincare products, which help to amp up the skin’s natural exfoliation process. The good news is that citric acid, like other alpha hydroxy acids, possesses a natural exfoliating effect that helps to remove the buildup of dead and dull skin from the pores. It works by accelerating cell turnover, which speeds up the cell renewal and regeneration process. The result of using citric acid for exfoliation is youthful, soft, smooth, and radiant skin.
- Reduces Wrinkles and Fine Lines - Wrinkles and fine lines are a common worry for many of us. They can be caused by the skin's natural aging or by cell damage caused by various internal and external agents. As mentioned before, citric acid encourages cell turnover when applied to the skin in the form of facial serums, scrubs, or other products. By stimulating the removal of damaged and dead skin cells and promoting the growth of newer and healthier skin cells, it can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
- Adjusts the Skin’s pH - Like other members of the AHA group, citric acid is also used as a pH adjuster or balancer for the skin. Wondering why it’s important to add pH-balancing ingredients to skincare products? Adding pH adjusters to skincare products helps ensure the products are non-irritating and gentle.² Citric acid works by maintaining the pH level, ensuring it’s not too basic or acidic. Citric acid maintains the optimal health and function of the skin barrier by keeping the pH within a healthy range.
- Unclogs Pores - All AHAs, including citric acid, act as chemical exfoliators that work by melting away the glue-like substance that binds skin cells together on the skin's surface. By dissolving this glue, they help speed up the removal of dead cells from the pores. Moreover, an increased cell turnover unclogs the pores, eliminating grime, sebum, bacteria, and other pollutants that lead to congestion of the pores. Clogged pores can make the skin look dull, rough, and uneven. In addition, clogged pores are the main factor behind blackheads and whiteheads on the skin. They can even cause inflammation, leading to acne breakouts, irritation, and redness. So, by keeping the pores clean, citric acid prevents various skin issues from occurring.
- Suitable for Sensitive Skin - If you have very sensitive, dry, or inflamed skin that gets easily aggravated by skincare products with AHAs or BHAs, you should consider adding citric acid to your skincare regimen. Citric acid is a milder compound because it has a larger molecular size than lactic acid and glycolic acid. The larger molecular size makes it harder for citric acid to penetrate deeply and instantly into the skin, making it a less potent acid. This makes citric acid more tolerable for people with sensitive and irritable skin than other acids.
- Rich in Antioxidant Power - Citric acid has another unique and powerful attribute that distinguishes it from other acids and makes it a valuable inclusion in your skincare routine. It’s abundant in antioxidant properties that repair damaged skin and protect it from further cell damage. Oxidative stressors, including free radicals and UV rays, are the primary agents that can affect the skin cells, causing havoc on the skin. Some of the outcomes of oxidative damage are wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, acne, and inflammation.³ Therefore, applying skincare products, especially citric acid serums and creams, can combat the harmful effects of external aggressors and help maintain a healthy and youthful complexion.
- Treats Uneven Skin Tone - It’s pretty common to experience uneven skin tone or discoloration due to regular exposure to the outside environment. No matter the cause behind your uneven skin tone, citric acid can aid in treating the problem. Since citric acid accelerates the cell repair and regeneration process, it helps remove damaged cells faster from the skin. After removing the discolored layer of cells from the skin's surface, a brighter, fresher, and even-toned complexion is revealed. Moreover, the antioxidant effect of citric acid also helps prevent hyperpigmentation due to sun damage. Citric acid strengthens the skin’s external barrier, helping to prevent UV rays from entering the skin and causing cell damage.
Adding Citric Acid to Your Skincare Routine?
Now that you know why you should be looking for citric acid on the ingredient list when buying your skincare products, let’s move to how you can add it to your skincare routine to avoid irritation and itching. Like other AHAs, you should gradually introduce citric acid into your skincare routine. This will allow your skin to adjust and develop tolerance to citric acid.
Start with a skincare product formulated with a lower concentration of citric acid because they are generally safer to use. Use your citric acid product two or three times a week initially. If your skin responds well to the acid and you don’t experience redness, flaking, and itching, you can increase the frequency of using it. One important thing to be wary of is that citric acid can make the skin photosensitive, so don’t forget to apply and reapply a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Also, always conduct a patch test before applying citric acid products to your face.
Sundree's RYSE+SHYNE hydrating facial serum is a lightweight serum with hyaluronic acid and citric acid to help hydrate the skin while minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In addition, it includes power-house ingredients vitamin c and niacinamide to help brighten skin and reduce signs of hyperpigmentation.
Does Citric Acid Have Any Side Effects?
As mentioned before, citric acid is known to be a gentle AHA that doesn’t penetrate deep into the skin, making it safer for the skin. In addition, due to their milder nature, it's less likely to undergo any side effects while using citric acid skincare products. However, citric acid is often used in combination with other acids from the AHAs or BHAs groups and can be irritating to the skin. So, be cautious while using a skincare product with a combination of citric acid and other acids, especially if you have sensitive skin.
It’s also important to avoid using any harsh chemicals or physical exfoliators that can be abrasive and irritating to the skin. If you’re using retinol in your skincare regimen and thinking of adding citric acid to it, make sure to use both products at different times during the day or use them on alternate days. You can use retinol at night and citric acid in the morning as retinol can make the skin more sensitive to the sun.
Alpha hydroxy acids are among the widely used skincare ingredients in the skincare industry. Citric acid belongs to the AHA family and is added to various skincare formulations due to its amazing skin benefits. Some of the reasons to add citric acid to your skincare routine include brightening dull skin, shrinking enlarged pores, reducing wrinkles and fine lines, correcting uneven skin tone, cleaning pores, exfoliating the skin, balancing the skin’s pH level, and protecting the skin from oxidative damage. These are some reasons citric acid is added to facial serums, lotions, creams, scrubs, cleansers, and facial masks to take advantage of its unique properties. So, incorporate citric acid into your skincare regimen and take it to a whole new level.
- ACS. (2022). ‘Citric Acid’, ACS.org, Accessed May 18, 2022. Available at: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/molecule-of-the-week/archive/c/citric-acid.html#:~:text=Citric%20acid%20is%20an%20important,pineapples%2C%20and%20even%20animal%20tissues.
- Price, Dori. (2020). ‘Everything You Need to Know About Skin pH- And Why It Matters’, com, Accessed May 18, 2022. Available at: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/anti-aging/a34761480/what-is-skin-ph/
- Jaliman, Debra. (2021). ‘Hyperpigmentation, Hypopigmentation, and Your Skin’, Accessed May 19, 2022. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hyperpigmentation-hypopigmentation