citric acid skincare

Have you ever heard of Citric Acid?

It’s a relative of Glycolic Acid. It does pretty much the same thing, yet no one uses it. Why is that?!

Let’s find out:

What Is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a member of the exfoliating Alpha Hydroxy Acids family (the same family Glycolic Acid belongs to, too).

Citric acid comes from citrus fruits, like lemons, oranges, and tangerines. But you can also make it from fermented sugar solutions.

But what does it look like? At room temperature, it’s a white, crystalline powder.

Not sure what you can use Citric Acid with? Click on the image below to subscribe to my newsletter and receive the “How To Combine Actives Like A Pro” cheatsheet.

How Does Citric Acid Benefit Skin?

Like all Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), Citric acid is an exfoliant. It dissolves the glue that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off and reveal the smoother and brighter skin underneath.

Here’s the deal: the cells on the surface of your skin are old. They’ve been battered by the elements, attacked by pollutants, and exposed too long to the sun.

The result? They’re now so rough and dull, they make you look tired and a little older. But remove that superficial layer and voila’. The skin underneath is softer to the touch, more even in tone, and has a dewy glow.

While they’re at it, AHAs also hydrate skin through a humectant mechanism. That’s a fancy way of saying they attract water from the environment into your skin, helping to keep it hydrated and plumper for longer.

Studies show that using 20% Citric Acid for three months helps to make skin thicker, reduce sun damage, and increase skin hydration. Not bad, is it?

Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Is Right For You?

Citric Acid VS Glycolic Acid: Which One Is Better?

Glycolic acid all the way. There’s no contest here.

For starters, glycolic acid works well even in smaller concentrations (5% or so). But all the studies on citric acid used 20% or higher.

Those concentrations are way too high for use at home. That’s why citric acid in OTC skincare products is usually a pH adjuster (more on that below) than an exfoliant.

But even when you compare 20% Glycolic Acid vs 20% Citric Acid, the latter comes out as the loser. A 1996 study shows that Citric Acid appears “to be less effective, but may be useful additions to lactic or glycolic acid mixes”.

Related: Glycolic Acid VS Lactic Acid: Which One Is Right For You?

bioderma sebium global intensive purifying care review

What Else Does Citric Acid Do In Skincare?

Citric acid may be an exfoliant, but it’s rarely used that way. In the smaller concentrations used in skincare, it has two other jobs:

  • pH-Adjuster: It adjusts the pH of products, so they’re not too alkaline (that would literally burn your skin off!)
  • Fragrance: It gives products a lemon-like scent.

Related: Is Fragrance In Skincare As Bad As Paula Begoun Says?

What Are The Best Skincare Products With Citric Acid?

Is Citric Acid Bad For Your Skin?

Exfoliation is one of the fastest ways to get glowing, younger-looking skin. But it’s not without risk. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Contact dermatitis: If you’re allergic to it, it’ll cause a bad rash.
  • Irritation: Like all exfoliants, citric acid acid can irritate skin, dry it out, and make it red and flaky when you use it too much or too often.
  • Photosensitivity: Whenever you remove dead skin cells, you make your skin a bit more prone to sun damage. But you can easily avoid this by wearing sunscreen.

Related: 5 Skincare Treatments That Can Ruin Your Skin (If You Overdo Them)

The Bottom Line

It may be a member of the AHAs family, but Citric Acid doesn’t exfoliate skin all that well. Instead, it’s a great pH-adjuster. That’s its main use in skincare.

What’s your take on citric acid in skincare? Let me know in the comments below.