This is an article on how to layer your exfoliating acids like AHAs and BHAs to maximum benefit in your skincare regimen.

How to layer acids in your skincare routine explained

The complete guide to layering skincare acids in your skincare routine.

Learn how & when to layer skincare acids for the best results.

Acids are great ingredients to get fast and effective results. There are so many different kinds of acids on the market that it can be an overwhelming procedure to find the right one for you. Where does one start? We take you through the how’s and why’s of using acids in your skincare routine.

What are skin care acids and what are the different types?

Acids are used to fight uneven skin tone, wrinkles, slow down ageing, reduce scars, acne and cure many other skin concerns. They help to accelerate skin cell turnover by developing a layer of new skin and shedding the old layer of dead skin.

There are many different kinds of acids, the most common are:

a) Salicylic Acid: It is a commonly used Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) to reduce acne by exfoliating skin and removing dirt from the pores. It has anti - inflammatory properties that help to reduce dirt build up.

b) Glycolic Acid: It is a type of Alpha Hydroxy Acid known for its anti – ageing properties. It has the tiniest molecules that allow it to penetrate deep into the skin. It stimulates collagen production to help with fine lines and wrinkles.

c) Lactic Acid: This is considered gentler than Glycolic Acid and is used as a moisturising exfoliator perfect for those with sensitive skin. It helps to cure discoloration and spots.

d) Mandelic Acid: It has a larger molecule structure and hence less harsh on the skin. It is ideal to brighten dull skin. It is great to reverse sun damage, spots and hyperpigmentation.

e) Malic Acid: Its properties can help to provide hydration to the skin and make the skin smooth.

f) Tartaric Acid: It helps to make the skin look younger by reducing fine line and wrinkles. Its healing properties encourage development of new skin cells.

This is an image showing different types of exfoliating AHAs & BHAs acids available in skincare

Read more about the different acids and their benefits in our article on Exfoliating Acids Cheat Sheet: AHA, BHA & PHA For All Your Skin Concerns.

Which are the acids that can and cannot be used together?

Mixing products and acids is a great way to deal with multiple skin concerns all at once. Our skin is constantly evolving and it is almost impossible for one ingredient to address all your skin problems. Here are a few facial acid combinations that can be used together to get great results:

1) AHAs and BHAs: Both the acids are great exfoliators to the skin. They are used to peel the top layer of your skin to allow new, evenly pigmented skin cells to form. AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and are water soluble, that means it has the ability to dissolve in water. BHA, stands for beta hydroxy acid, are oil soluble hence can penetrate even deeper into the skin. and remove excess sebum. You can alternate between AHAs and BHAs by using one type in the morning and the other during your night time routine to avoid irritation and dryness. If you’re looking for an all-inclusive anti-aging treatment, then an AHA may be the best fit. A BHA may be better suited if you want to calm down inflammation and get rid of acne.

2) Hyaluronic Acid and AHAs/BHAs: Hyaluronic Acid is a natural lubricant your body produces to help retain moisture within your cells and tissues. Applying it has various skin benefits and is helpful for all skin types. It slows down the ageing process and keeps the skin hydrated. Even though it is an acid it is not an exfoliate. Combining Hyaluronic Acid and AHAs/ BHAs helps to reduce irritation. It is a great way to ensure that the acids are not too harsh on the skin.

3) Retinoic Acid and Hyaluronic Acid: Retinoic Acid helps to reduce wrinkles and fine lines and increase collagen production. Retinoids can help treat acne by unclogging the pores and allowing creams and other products to seep deep into the skin. It helps to treat skin damaged due to exposure from UVA and UVB light. However, it can cause dryness especially for sensitive or dry skin and hence must be paired with Hyaluronic Acid to help to retain moisture.

It is great to mix and match products to attain their maximum potential. However, before that, there are some ingredients that react adversely to each other. You need to know ingredients that do not work well in order to avoid harsh reactions. These are a few acids and ingredients that should be avoided together:

4) L - ascorbic Acids and AHAs/BHAs: L - ascorbic acids also known as Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant used to brighten the skin. Its unstable nature will cancel out the benefits of applying any product used directly after. AHAs and BHAs help to exfoliate the top layer of dead cells formation on the skin. The best way to incorporate Vitamin C and acids in your routine is to apply them away from each other, at different times of day.

5) Retinols and AHAs/BHAs: Retinol and AHAs/BHAs are both used as exfoliants for the skin by stripping off the dead layer of skin cells. Using them together can prove harsh especially for sensitive skin causing irritation, inflammation or chemical burn. However, if you want to incorporate the two together in your routine the safest way to do so is by washing with an AHA based cleanser then followed by retinol. This is only recommended for oily, blemish prone skin, but is not suitable for dry or sensitive skin. AHA allows better penetration of retinol and can be safely used as part of an anti-acne or anti-ageing routine with guidance and gradual build-up. To follow such a routine, you must seek advice from a professional.

This is an image showing which exfoliating acids like AHAs & BHAs can be used or cant be used together effectively.


Precautions and tips:
  1. Apply sunscreen every two hours when using acids on your skin during the day to avoid damage.
  2. Before using any acid on your skin, it is recommended to do a small patch test and start with a low concentration, moving upwards as you build your skin’s tolerance for it.
  3. AHA creams at a concentration of 10% or less are Safe when applied to the skin during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
  4. To avoid unsafe products, seek professional advice from an expert before incorporating acids into your skin care routine. Do not overuse your acid-based products.
  5. Be mindful of the other active ingredients (such as retinols and antioxidants) in your skincare products. Some of these ingredients can intensify the effects of some acids causing burning or scarring.
This is an image showing precautions and tips of using acids AHAs and BHAs in your skincare routine.

How should you layer acids to get maximum results?

Using acids can get addictive. We can get visibly fast results. Not before long you realise you have incorporated all the possible acids in your skincare routine. Before you overload your skin with acids, let us take you through some effective tips that will help you to layer your acids in the most effective way.

This is an image showing how to effectively use AHAs and BHAs in your skincare.

1) Application of AHAs and BHAs: Those with acne prone, oily skin are recommended to combine these two acids together. You can apply them at different times of the day. However, if you want to use them together apply BHAs to the oilier areas and AHAs to the rest of the face to avoid overlapping. You can layer the two by applying the thinnest layer first but this can increase the risk of irritation. Start by applying BHAs as they are oil soluble, with a lower pH level and then use AHAs.

Product Recommendations

Use Swisse Bamboo Skin Refining Exfoliator, a gentle facial exfoliant formulated with bamboo stem powder to help remove dead skin cells and reveal smooth, soft, supple skin followed by Etsley Everyoung Glowing Serum- Ultra Grow features AHA, Ginseng Extract, Licorice Extract with Berberis and Mulberry extract crafting this serum an antioxidant powerhouse, providing as much as 8x the skin’s natural protection.

2) Apply Niacinamide and Acids in the right order to balance the pH levels: Niacinamide is also known as vitamin B3. It is water soluble and retains moisture. It helps to reduce the appearance of pores, treat uneven skin tone and reduce fine lines. Acids typically have a pH between 3.0 and 4.0, while niacinamide is around 5.0 to 7.0. When you mix them together, the niacinamide will raise the pH of the acid causing redness. To avoid any reaction, you can apply them 30 minutes apart. When layering these products, always use the lowest pH to highest, starting with acid straight after cleansing.

Product recommendation:

Apply Neemli Naturals Glycolic Acid, Hydrolyzed Collagen Pit Repair Concentrate to target pits, redness and uneven skin texture. It helps to brighten the skin, produce collagen, exfoliate skin, treat acne and reveal fresh, radiant skin gently. Further use, Swisse Blood Orange Brightening Facial Serum with Olive Oil and Niacinamide to enhance your skin.

3) Treat discolouration and texture by layering AHAs: Layering AHAs will help to fight hyperpigmentation, dark sports, texture. AHAs that act as exfoliants, also work to lighten uneven pigmentation and smooth out skin texture.

Product Recommendation:

Apply Martiderm DSP- Bright 30 Ampoules that contain selective depigmenting active ingredients which only act where there are dark spots, evening skin tone and help to reduce and prevent their appearance. It also includes 5% pure Vitamin C and Tranexamic Acid to shore up the depigmenting effect. Follow this by using Swisse Vitamin B3 Anti Blemish Moisturiser with Green Tea & Willow Bark Extract which contains Vitamin B3 that helps to minimise shine while Salicylic Acid helps to refine the appearance of enlarged pores and gently exfoliates to reveal smooth, clear skin.

4) Sensitive skins should use PHAs: Poly Hydroxy Acids attract moisture. They work by clearing off debris on the surface of your skin. Due to their larger molecule size they are gentler than AHAs. It takes longer to penetrate into the skin making it great for those with sensitive skin. It is just as effective as AHAs but takes a longer time to show results. Sensitive skin should start by using acids in their night time routines to understand the way the skin reacts. You should look for PHA or AHA infused overnight masks. If it is too harsh for your skin then you will have time overnight to treat it with soothing ingredients that will help it to calm down.

Product Recommendation:

An overnight mask can repair any damage caused by acids. For intense hydration, apply Swisse Hyaluro Natural Intensive Hydrating Mask before sleep and leave on overnight to replenish the skin. Follow it up in the morning with your normal cleansing routine. Recommended for use once to twice per week, or any time your skin needs a hydrating lift.

5) Sunscreen and Acids: The effect of acids on your skin can make it more sensitive to the sun. You should also be careful with acids when you know you will be exposed to the sun for extended periods. The last step in layering your acids should end by applying a sunscreen to prevent sun burns or damage.


Even normal skin is prone to irritation so the key to layering acids is to take one step at a time. Start by understanding your skin concerns. Only use those ingredients that your skin requires. Do not overload your skin with active ingredients. The key is to make sure you use acids at the right time, in the right order to get the most of your routine.

- By Howrah Lookmanji

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