On my deep research for perfect, balanced skin, I came across a lesser-known ingredient called succinic acid. It was even a bigger surprise when I saw that some of my favorite brands already have it in their formulas, which made me want to look further into its benefits. So ahead, we weigh in on everything you need to know about succinic acid for skin, including how to use it in your skincare routine for maximum results. Spoiler: this one is poised to become the next generation of acne-fighting and anti-aging ingredients. Intrigued? Keep scrolling.
What is succinic acid?
Succinic acid is a naturally-occurring acid seen in almost all plant and animal tissues. While the word “acid” can be confusing, succinic acid has nothing to do with the alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids you most probably are familiar with, having no exfoliating power. Instead, succinic acid possesses antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities that have been found effective for diminishing acne and early aging signs.
But here’s the best part about it: succinic acid in skincare is a 100% natural, ECOCERT-certified ingredient derived from vegetable sources. It has anti-acne and anti-aging effects touted to replace less skin- and environmental-friendly elements currently used in cosmetics. Succinic acid is also highly soluble in water, meaning it is accessible for skincare formulations, and the skin easily absorbs it, making it ideal for topical use.
Now here’s how succinic acid can improve your skin.
How does it benefit the skin?
Without a doubt, the most notable perk of succinic acid in skincare is its ability to fight breakouts — gratitude to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It turns out this guy works wonders in reducing the activity of acne-causing bacteria, studies pointing that succinic acid can decrease the microbial growth by 90% at a concentration as low as 0.1%, outperforming salicylic acid — the big-name of acne-fighters.
Stay put as there is more good news to come. In addition to the anti-acne benefits, succinic acid also acts as an antioxidant. When topically applied, it offsets free radical damage and protects the lipids that support skin integrity, aiming to reduce aging signs. More than that, succinic acid is structurally similar to the epidermal lipids (the ones that make up your skin’s protective barrier), so it may as well help increase hydration levels. Because of this, succinic acid can also balance excess sebum, aiding in preventing clogged pores and pimples — at least that’s the theory.
Moreover, another benefit of succinic acid for skin is that it preserves collagen levels, therefore helping maintain elasticity and firmness while diminishing wrinkles appearance. Some evidence suggests that succinic acid inhibits the enzymes involved in collagen degradation, making it a promising anti-aging treatment. Last but not least, succinic acid accelerates cell metabolism, meaning it stimulates skin renewal and speeds up the healing process, softening and revitalizing the complexion.
Given all these benefits, it would be fair to say succinic acid for skincare is a true multi-tasker ready to steal the gold-standard badge from retinol and salicylic acid in terms of anti-acne and anti-aging results. No wonder huge brands like The Inkey List and Perricone MD already introduced this goodie ingredient to their arsenal.
However, as much as we love it, succinic acid still has a long way to go to win the same trust-power as the big names in skincare, aka retinol and salicylic acid. Unfortunately, succinic acid is poorly researched, and there’s a lack of information about its hydrating, sebum-balancing, and anti-aging benefits. On the flip side, there’s some evidence to back up its anti-acne effects, yet this still remains a questionable benefit of succinic acid. Besides, succinic acid has never been advertised as an active ingredient in skincare products, so it’s hard to say whether it delivers what it promises.
Is it safe?
The story goes succinic acid is a very well-tolerated ingredient, safe for all skin types, including sensitive and problematic ones. It’s gentle enough to be used twice daily and has really no adverse effects. Also, succinic acid is known to cause no irritation or dryness.
Who should use succinic acid?
Literally, everyone can use succinic acid, especially those dealing with pimples. Besides, thanks to its delicate nature and ability to hinder acne bacteria, succinic acid could be an alternative to salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide for keeping breakouts at bay. Hence, if your skin can’t tolerate these two, you have even more reason to put succinic acid on your radar.
How to use it
Succinic acid in skincare performs best when used in a lightweight serum, as the small molecules of serums allow better skin penetration. You’ll also be pleased to know that succinic acid works synergically with most other actives. Succinic acid and salicylic acid make a great team for battling acne and excess sebum, while coupling it with retinol results in a winning duo for tackling aging signs. Other than that, succinic acid can be paired with vitamin C to boost antioxidant protection and with hyaluronic acid for intense hydration. Indeed, succinic acid is a versatile ingredient.
Succinic acid products
If you’re ready to take the plunge, below are the best succinic acid products you can use to achieve the complexion of your dreams:
- Perricone MD Acne Relief Maximum Strength Spot Gel (view on Perricone MD / Amazon)
- The Inkey List Succinic Acid Blemish Treatment (view on Sephora)
- Perricone MD Acne Relief Calming Treatment & Hydrator (view on Perricone MD)
- Elemis Pro-Collagen Energising Marine Cleanser (view on Elemis / Amazon)
- Dermalogica Awaken Peptide Eye Gel (view on Dermalogica / Amazon)
- iS Clinical Step 2 Active Peel System (view on Amazon)
- Wang Y, Kuo S, Shu M, Yu J, Huang S, Dai A, Two A, Gallo RL, Huang CM. Staphylococcus epidermidis in the human skin microbiome mediates fermentation to inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes: implications of probiotics in acne vulgaris. 2014 Jan.
- Lawrence Theunissen, Francois Courbes. Succinic acid: a promising multi-functional ingredient for cosmetic and personal care applications. March/April 2018.
- Turkevych, Alexander & Derkach, Natalia & Kupriyanova, Anna & Zubair, Leila & Turkevych, Marta & Turkevych, Danylo. (2020). Improving Skin Quality With Hyaluronic And Succinic Acid.