Meet The Acne-Fighting Ingredient Perfect For Sensitive Skin

Two skincare experts explains the benefits of succinic acid.

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The beginning of the year always brings with it a buzz around new skincare ingredients, and the first of 2021's must-haves seems to be succinic acid. But what is succinic acid and should you be using it? I spoke to skincare experts to figure out what the fuss is all about.

The truth is that succinic acid isn’t really new, and has been used in skincare products for years now. But it’s only recently piqued our interest as a star ingredient, rather than one that sits in the background. “I think we’re going to see a lot more succinic acid by the end of 2021 and in 2022,” says Jennifer Rock, CEO & Founder of The Skin Nerd.

“‘Succinic acid skincare’ has peaked as a search term in Google this month and in the past few years; the succinic acid market has experienced growth of 5.58%. Once people begin to trust its effects and see other’s experience them, that’s when it will really take off,” she adds.

So what exactly does the ingredient do, and why is everyone getting so excited about it? I asked Jen and another skincare expert their thoughts on succinic acid.

What Is Succinic Acid?

Succinic acid is a naturally occurring ingredient in amber and sugar cane as well as apple cider vinegar, and is found in living organisms. The process of fermentation obtains succinic acid sustainably.

While it has only recently become a 'buzzy' ingredient in skincare, succinic has been around for a while. "It actually isn’t new, it’s mostly just new as your active ingredient," says Rock.

"It’s quickly become so popular now because The Inkey List [who just launched a Succinic Acid Treatment] made it popular," adds Megan Felton, co-founder of skincare consultancy Lion/ne. "Hada Labo, for example, has been using this ingredient for a while but didn’t highlight it."

The ingredient is similar to salicylic acid, and also has antioxidant, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, says Felton.

What Are The Benefits Of Succinic Acid?

Which leads us nicely onto its core benefits.

Succinic acid works by helping to peel away dead skin cells from pores to keep them clear. It is used to target blemishes, heal scarring, and improve signs of ageing, and it is most often likened to salicylic acid. Unlike salicylic, however, "it doesn’t encourage a lot of exfoliation," notes Rock. For this reason, it's not really comparable to stronger acids that encourage rapid exfoliation and skin turnover.

However, "as noted in an investigation into succinic acid’s antimicrobial properties in Household & Personal Care Today in 2018, it outperforms salicylic acid as an anti-bacterial agent," Rock confirms.

The multifunctional ingredient also has excellent antioxidant properties, the experts agree. "It's great for people living in polluted areas," notes Felton, while Rock explains that, "studies suggest that it may be able to inhibit the breakdown of collagen in the skin – which is what we’ve always wanted from an anti-ageing ingredient."

Antioxidants are known to brighten skin and protect from environmental aggressors, meaning succinic acid is a great all-rounder.

Is Succinic Acid Suitable For All Skins Types?

Due to its super gentle level of exfoliation and the fact it's less likely to lead to irritation, succinic acid is "best recommended for those with very sensitive, acne-prone skin," says Rock. However, if you're experiencing acne and your skin "is not too sensitive, salicylic acid may be a better option," she adds. That said, succinic acid "can be used by absolutely anyone."

The only people who should be avoiding succinic acid are those who have an allergy to it, says Rock. "I would always recommend patch testing, particularly if you have sensitive skin. Apply a small amount of your succinic acid product behind your ear and leave it for 48 hours. If you see or feel no adverse effects, you can go ahead and give it a go."

What Are The Best Succinic Acid Products?

Succinic acid is in more products than you'd expect, making it easy to slot in. "You can incorporate it into your routine in a spot treatment or hydration serum or moisturiser," says Rock, who recommends the new The Inkey List formula ("it pairs succinic acid with salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid for a non-drying spot treatment") along with products by Perricone MD and Zelens.

Want to know where to get started? I've created an edit of the best succinic acid products available now.

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