If you think of the family of chemical exfoliants, glycolic and lactic acids are like loved kids, and malic acid is like their odd step-sister. Seriously, we all heard about these two, but there is so little talk about malic acid. They all share the same goal, to reveal brighter and healthier skin, but malic acid does it in a delicate fashion. So, if you have sensitive skin and want a less harsh exfoliant, you should pay attention to malic acid. Find out here what you’re missing for not using it already.
What is malic acid?
Malic acid is a kind of fruit-derived acid, and it’s part of the alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) family. I dunno if you were good with chemistry at the school, but I wasn’t, and this does not tell me much. With further checking, I found out that malic acid is a reason for the sour taste of eating an apple. Scientists have discovered that in the 80s. And that is how it got its name, from the Latin word malum, which means apple. Fun fact: malic acid also gives a biting taste to the wine (thank you, malic!).
What are the benefits of malic acid?
Exfoliates: Malic acid dissolves dead cells from the skin’s top layer while increasing cell turnover and promoting collagen production. The result? Smoother and clearer skin. But don’t expect dramatic results when using malic acid since this one can’t penetrate the skin as much as other acids. Malic acid mainly works at the skin’s surface to shed away dead skin cells because its large molecule can’t penetrate the skin as deep.
Hydrates: Malic acid is also a humectant, meaning it can keep your skin hydrated and reduce water loss. Yup, malic acid can draw moisture from the air and lock it in your skin to plump its appearance.
Anti-aging: Since it aids in skin cell turnover, malic acid increases collagen production, maintaining skin elasticity. Also, by shedding away dead cells, malic acid helps clear dark spots from the skin.
Breakouts: The exfoliation properties of malic acid helps unclog pores and reduce cells buildup, which in turn prevent breakouts.
Fades hyperpigmentation: Though it’s not the most powerful acid, malic acid can help fade hyperpigmentation by sloughing away pigmented cells.
Malic acid side effects
As gentle as it is, malic acid can still cause irritation, redness, or swelling. Besides, it’s known that AHAs increase photosensitivity; thus, you should always use sunscreen and avoid long sun exposure.
Who can use malic acid?
We already said it is gentler, but we never really got into it. So, here is the deal: because its molecule is too large to penetrate the skin, malic acid will work on the surface. If you have sensitive skin and cannot tolerate more rigid acids, you found your match! Keep in mind that no proof is saying malic acid is suitable for pregnant women and breastfeeding moms. Besides, if you are into vegan skincare, you’ll be glad to know malic acid is not obtained from animal origins.
How to use malic acid?
It depends on your product at hand. Malic acid can be found in various skincare products, from exfoliants to moisturizers and cleansers. And whilst the last two can be used daily, a chemical peel with malic acid can only be used once or twice weekly.
Last but not least, don’t use any retinoids product or other chemical exfoliants one week prior to exfoliating with AHAs.
The bottom line
Malic acid is obviously doing good to our skin, but that does not mean we should relax. Any new product should be tested thoughtfully before adding it to your routine. Finally, happy wine drinking (with malic acid in it)! Did I just say it out loud? I meant: happy adding malic acid into your skincare. But a wine glass would not hurt either, would it?
- Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. 2018;23(4):863. Published 2018 Apr 10. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863
- Babilas, Philipp & Knie, Ulrich & abels, christoph. (2012). Cosmetic and dermatologic use of alpha hydroxy acids. Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft = Journal of the German Society of Dermatology : JDDG. 10. 488-91. 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2012.07939.x.