Just when we thought we'd worked out our AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids, which exfoliate skin) from our PHAs (polyhydroxy acids, which do the same job but much more gently), there's a new skincare acid coming up the ranks. I don't like to play favourites with my ingredients but retinol may need to watch its back. As someone who experiences bouts of hormonal acne and skin sensitivity, anything that promises to clear blemishes, heal scars and reverse the signs of ageing is going to have my money faster than you can say 'crow's feet'.
Enter: succinic acid.
What is succinic acid and how can it treat acne, fine lines and wrinkles?
Naturally found in amber or sugar cane, succinic acid is sustainably obtained through a process of fermentation and is similar in aim to salicylic acid. It has skin-softening and bacteria-inhibiting properties and helps to control sebum, therefore reducing shine and excess oil, which can potentially lead to breakouts. It also restores the skin’s pH balance – something some skincare products (such as foaming cleansers or harsh exfoliating acids) can disrupt, causing redness, dryness and cracked skin.
Although new to us in the beauty industry, succinic acid has been used in European countries for many years for its medicinal properties. Its skincare properties are especially intriguing, though. "As succinic acid balances oily and congested complexions, it’s ideal for patients with acne," says skin expert and facialist Renée Lapino. "This leads to fewer spots and blackheads. But succinic acid also reverses the visible signs of ageing, and is especially useful for those with sensitive skin that gets red or irritated easily."
How do you use succinic acid in skincare?
"It should be teamed with your serums or moisturisers," says Renée. "As it is a small molecule, it will not penetrate over heavy creams and oils, which is why it's most frequently found within serums."
Having just turned 33, I’m starting to get serious about my skincare. Although we all get the odd blemish here and there and adult acne now accounts for 55% of the female population, a smooth and clear complexion is my holy grail. As a self-confessed skincare obsessive, I’ve learned the hard way that too many chemical peels, AHAs and overusing retinol can compromise the skin’s barrier, leaving my skin feeling textured, dry and more permeable to environmental aggressors such as pollution.
With hydration and breakouts taken care of, I wanted to know how succinic acid targets fine lines, too. "Those who are starting to think about anti-ageing will love succinic acid," says Renée. "Combined with its ability to hydrate, which helps plump fine lines in itself, it also has antioxidant properties that resemble our own skin’s lipids," or fats, which keep our skin moisturised, smooth and healthy. As a result, Renée says that this acts like a shield against free radical damage. Free radicals include things like UV rays, pollution and cigarette smoke. In turn, this prevents fine lines and wrinkles.
What are the best succinic acid skincare products?
Mainstream skincare hasn't quite caught on to succinic acid just yet so products which include the ingredient are few and far between. That said, Perricone MD has launched a blemish-specific range (music to my ears) while Zelens has a serum which promises to increase skin elasticity. I started to incorporate both products into my daily skincare regime, using Zelens Hyaluronic Acid Complex Serum Drops, £55, morning and night (after cleansing and before moisturiser) and Perricone MD's Blemish Relief Calming Treatment & Hydrator, £45, in the morning instead of my usual moisturiser.
It’s been four weeks and I’m hooked. The thick, gel-like consistency of the hyaluronic acid in the Zelens serum acts like a big drink of water for my increasingly dry skin, while Perricone MD’s moisturiser doubled up on hydration, making the two work perfectly together. While it took a couple of weeks to see a difference from the serum, Perricone MD’s moisturiser kicked in on the first day, thanks to the combination of lactic and succinic acid, both of which exfoliated my skin. Although it tingled very slightly on application, the following day revealed a new, smooth layer of skin without blemishes, texture or scarring. As acids make skin sensitive to UV, wearing a high factor, broad spectrum sunscreen during the day is a good idea. The inclusion of soothing ingredient citrulline meant that my otherwise sensitive, red complexion felt calm and strong – something I never get from other acids. The couple of new spots which appeared around that time of the month were small in comparison, less painful and without the under-the-skin texture that usually accompanies them.
Zelens serum, however, is a slow burner. It sinks in quickly, allowing makeup to sit on top without greasiness, and leaves my skin plump and dewy straightaway. After two weeks, I started to notice the texture on my cheeks had significantly improved, redness had reduced and my skin felt more toned and refined. But the best part? Those fine smile lines in which my foundation sets up home are softer and less noticeable and my face doesn't feel tight or dry – two unwelcome side effects I usually experience after retinol or salicylic acid. I think I've found a new hero ingredient.
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