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Citric Acid For Skin: Benefits, How to Use It, Side Effects

All About Citric Acid and Its Many Skin-Care Benefits

citric acid

The list of skin-care products formulated with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) is pretty lengthy. Differentiating each acid can be quite confusing, especially when you're simply looking for one product that solves all your skin-care concerns. There's glycolic acid, which gives skin a noticeable glow; the acne-clearing azelaic acid; and the brightening and dark-spot-reducing lactic acid. But one AHA you may not be too familiar with is citric acid.

Derived from citrus fruits, citric acid is a game changer when it comes to neutralising free-radical damage from environmental exposures like air pollution, sunlight, smoking, alcohol, and poor nutrition, says board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD. Because of the overexposure, you may notice an increase in fine lines, wrinkles, dull skin, and other signs of ageing skin. Luckily, citric acid is more than capable of combating oxidative stress (damage to the layers of your skin from free radicals) and maintaining the health of your skin.

While it's more under the radar than other more researched AHAs, citric acid has a slew of benefits for skin that shouldn't be undermined. It helps rid your skin of dead skin cells, unclogs pores, improves the overall appearance of your skin, and so much more. The skin-care ingredient is also super beneficial for those who have oily skin with prominent pores.

Ahead, Dr. Nazarian details what citric acid is, the benefits of using it, and how to use it on your skin.

What Is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a classically used alpha-hydroxy acid in skin-care products. AHAs are natural acids derived from foods, so citric acid is extracted from citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, limes, and even berries or grapefruit.

Dr. Nazarian says citric acid has similar effects as two popular ingredients: retinoic acid, an antiageing product, and glycolic acid, a chemical exfoliating ingredient. This is why it's ideal to use to exfoliate skin and renew skin cells.

Citric Acid's Benefits For Skin

"The benefits are really similar to other acids in skin care, namely that it can be used as a chemical exfoliant to renew skin cells," Dr. Nazarian says. "There's long-term evidence to suggest that citric acid is a great ingredient to have in your skin-care regimen, hence why it's so popular today."

One major benefit of using citric acid on the skin is that it promotes cell turnover. It'll help your skin produce new skin cells to replace existing ones, resulting in smoother and glowing skin. It'll also tackle hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven tone, Dr. Nazarian says.

Citric acid also has astringent properties, aka exactly what those with oily skin need to reduce surface shine. Astringent means that this AHA is able to shrink the skin's tissues to tighten pores. This helps dry out excess oil on your skin, giving you a refreshing feeling.

The ingredient also has antimicrobial properties. Because of this, it lowers the skin's pH levels in order to kill acne-causing bacteria, especially when used with other oil-reducing and acne-fighting ingredients.

How to Use Citric Acid For the Skin

"I like to use citric acid like all other chemical exfoliants: conservatively," says Dr. Nazarian. When you use citric acid too often, especially if you have sensitive skin, you might notice your skin looking red, inflamed, and feeling irritated. She suggests using it as an infrequent player — applying it to your skin once a week to unclog pores and keep skin fresh.

"If you plan on using chemical exfoliation in your skin-care regimen, it's also vital that you use a daily sunscreen, because all chemical exfoliants can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and ultraviolet radiation," Dr. Nazarian says. Depending on how concentrated it is, you may be able to use it more frequently as an antioxidant when it is in a lower percentage.

"Personally, I like to multitask citric acid in combination with other ingredients in my skin-care products," Dr. Nazarian says. She adds that although she notices that it is pretty useful, she doesn't find it to be the "hero product" that warrants using it alone. Therefore, using a product that is formulated to diminish acne with citric acid as an ingredient can help decrease old acne marks and improve hyperpigmentation.

Is Citric Acid Safe For Sensitive Skin?

Citric acid is safe to use on sensitive skin, but "given the lower threshold that sensitive skin has for exfoliation, always start slow and low, with a low concentration, and no more than once a week," Dr. Nazarian says. She adds that you should always monitor for any irritation and inflammation while using a product made with the ingredient. And when in doubt, consult with your dermatologist before giving it a try.

Image Source: Getty / Tanja Ivanova
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