However, these tried-and-true acids are now competing with a slew of new varieties that are repeatedly cropping up in the latest skincare buys. But what are they, what do they do, and should you be chucking out your current ones in favour of the new class of 2021? Here’s all you need to know…
What is it?“The ‘oil’ that we often feel on our skin is known as sebum. It’s produced by the sebaceous glands in our skin and sapienic acid – which you’ll see on skincare labels as hexadecenoic acid – is a fatty acid found within this sebum” explains Dr Emmaline Ashley, Etre Vous Expert and Founder of London’s Ashley Aesthetics.
Where can I find it?New Swedish brand, Sapienic’s, Sapienic Boost, £95, is packed with the stuff (from 1st April).
What does it do?“Sapienic acid has a protective effect on our skin, thanks to its antimicrobial activity that targets bacteria, fungi and viruses. Its balancing capabilities make it a useful ingredient in terms of helping to maintain the skin barrier and prevent skin infections too,” shares Ashley.
Verdict“This is still quite a new area of exploration,” says Dr Ashley. “But it’s one I’d definitely keep my eye on.”
What is it?A naturally occurring compound found in amber, sugar cane, apple cider vinegar and even the human body itself. It has previously been used in skincare to adjust the pH of a formulation, but hit headlines after one skincare brand used it in a spot cream. In recent years, manufacturers have found a way to produce it using yeast-based technologies, rather than from fossil fuels as was previously the case, making it a more sustainable ingredient.
Where can I find it?The Inkey List Succinic Acid Blemish Treatment, £6.99, contains two per cent succinic acid, alongside one per cent of the much-loved acne busting salicylic acid to clear the complexion.
What does it do?Studies suggest succinic acid can inhibit the growth of P.acnes, the bacteria implicated in acne breakouts.
VerdictWhen it comes to treating acne, cosmetic chemist Nausheen Qureshi points out, “many ingredients, including honey, can also inhibit the growth of P.acnes but that doesn’t automatically mean honey is a good acne treatment” and as the data around its efficacy is scant, there are a lot of people wondering if it’s just clever marketing. While Dr Ashley believes that when it comes to treating acne, “you’ll probably derive the most benefit for the tried and tested acids already out there.”
What is it?“Fulvic acid is a substance derived from the humus of soil aka the organic matter that forms in soil when plants decay,” says Dr Ashley. “It has long been sold as a supplement, popular for its reported anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.”
Where can I find it?Ful.Vic.Health Fulvic Face Cream, £30, uses the powerful antioxidant properties of fulvic acid to protect the skin’s collagen and elastin stores for smoother, plumper skin.
What does it do?Research suggests that fulvic acid can have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial effects when applied to the skin.
Verdict“There was some initial research into fulvic acid in 2012, looking at its role in the treatment of patients with eczema and its potential anti-ageing properties,” says Dr Ashley. “It may have a role to play in aiding the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions. However, there have been few clinical studies in the past decade looking at it as an anti-ageing ingredient, and many of the claims made about this acid are not backed by any recent or robust evidence.”
What is it?“Polyglutamic acid is a powerful humectant naturally found in fermented soybeans,” says Dr Ashley.
Where can I find it?Charlotte Tilbury Magic Serum Crystal Elixir, £60, contains polyglutamic acid in combination with other skin boosting ingredients, including niacinamide, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C.
What does it do?“It is often likened to hyaluronic acid as a substance that can bind and hold onto water, meaning it can help plump the skin and improve the appearance of fine lines,” explains Dr Ashley.
VerdictWhile it can actually bind to more water than hyaluronic acid, this doesn’t make it a better ingredient as Nausheen Qureshi explains. “It’s a bigger molecule than hyaluronic so it will only sit on the top of the skin, rather than hydrate below where truly needed.” As Dr Ashley says, “keep using your hyaluronic acid.”
What is it?“Tranexamic acid is very familiar to most doctors as it is a medication that is used to prevent bleeding and has long been used as an oral or injected treatment for this purpose in trauma and surgery,” says Dr Ashley.
Where can I find it?Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense Serum, £85, contains 1.8 per cent tranexamic acid alongside niacinamide and kojic acid, both ingredients known to be effective on hyperpigmentation.
What does it do?“In the past few years’ dermatologists have begun using it as a treatment for certain types of hyperpigmentation as, when taken in pill form it has been shown to reduce hyperpigmentation and lower the overproduction of melanin aka pigment in the skin, as well as decrease inflammation,” says Dr Ashley. In topical form it is thought to work by reducing the activity of tyrosinase, one of the enzymes that are involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that makes skin darker.
VerdictWhile some investigations have been done on the topical form — one small study suggested 3 per cent topical tranexamic acid could be as effective as 3 per cent hydroquinone for treating melasma — there is far better evidence for the oral variety.
So, should you be swapping out your current acids for these hot new ingredients? Nausheen Qureshi advises caution. While she welcomes the possibilities brought by new ingredients, she also points out that they have a long way to go to prove their worth.
"One study looked at all the acids out there and concluded that lactic acid and glycolic acid are the most studied and peer-reviewed acids available to formulators. That’s not to say that others can’t be useful, but most need a lot more research before we can be confident in what they can offer."
In other words, it might not be exciting, but there’s a reason why the same ingredients come up time and time again.
Emmaline Ashley, Aesthetic Doctor
I'm Dr Emmaline Ashley, the founder of Ashley Aesthetics. I'm passionate about beauty, wellness and science. I wanted...Book with Emmaline Ashley