3 min read

Citric Acid in Skincare: All You Need to Know

Still life photography of five lemons on the table and a plate.

Skincare enthusiasts are constantly looking for the ingredient that might be just "the one". In the ever-evolving world of skincare, there is constantly something on the horizon that promises us wonders, making it difficult to distinguish true potential from the promises and wishful thinking. Citric acid is the ingredient we are putting on a trial today, clarifying the confusion with vitamin C, counting its benefits for the skin, and answering if it causes an allergy.  

What Is It?

Citric acid is a natural acid found in citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits, giving them that sour taste. It can be made synthetically, and it is commonly used as an additive in food, cleaning agents, nutrition supplements, etc. If you want to learn more about its overall properties and benefits for your health, you might enjoy this article  

Citric Acid and Vitamin C

Is citric acid vitamin C? In short, the answer is no. Those two are often confused because of their similar sources of origin. They do share several similarities but also have quite a few fundamental differences. Citric acid is an acidic antioxidant, and vitamin C is ascorbic acid. Chemically speaking, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is a white or light yellowish crystalline solid chemical compound that can easily dissolve in water to give a mildly acidic solution, while citric acid is a pure white crystalline (monoclinic crystals) solid that occurs naturally in citrus fruits.  

What Is Its Use in Skincare?

A staple of many skincare formulas, citric acid is derived from citrus fruits. It is mostly used in formulas for exfoliating and antioxidant properties. As a member of the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) family, it is an excellent choice for addressing various skin concerns. A gentle reminder: AHAs are a group of acids that occur naturally in fruits, sugar cane, and milk  

Citric Acid Skin Benefits

As a member of the AHAs family, its strongest point would be exfoliation. Still, there are some extra benefits, such as combating oxidative stress, brightening the skin, facilitating the removal of excess oil, maintaining the skin’s pH level, and enhancing collagen production.

  • Combating oxidative stress

This super important benefit is to be thanks to the fact that citric acid has antioxidant properties. External factors like pollution and sun damage can harm your skin cells, while antioxidants can help combat some of that oxidative stress.

  • Skin brightening 

Following the previous benefit and the fact that citric acid acts as an exfoliator, it can help brighten skin. Over time (don’t think it will happen overnight), it can be your ally in treating dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and acne scars.

  • Facilitating the removal of excess oil

Another benefit might interest oily skin types in particular. Namely, citric acid is a natural astringent, meaning it helps dry out excess oil and leave the skin clean. 

  • Maintaining skin’s pH level

The pH scale goes from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral, lower is acidic, and higher is basic (alkaline). The ideal skin pH is between 4.5 and 5.5 (acidic) for women, but it is constantly changing based on our diet, sleep, the products we use, and environmental factors. Citric acid is a natural pH balancer because of its pH level between 3 and 6. And that’s important because you don’t want your pH to become too alkaline. If you manage to keep your pH balanced, you will maintain normal skin barrier function, which is a predisposition for healthy and beautiful skin.

  • Enhancing collagen production

There are studies that suggest that citric acid may stimulate collagen production, contributing to skin elasticity and firmness.  

Downsides and What to Take Into Consideration

While citric acid has numerous benefits, it's essential to be aware of potential downsides. If you are wondering is citric acid bad for you, this is what you should pay attention to: skin sensitivity, sun sensitivity, and pH levels. 

  • Skin Sensitivity

Citric acid may cause irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin. It's crucial to perform a patch test before incorporating products containing citric acid into your routine.

  • Sun Sensitivity

AHAs can increase skin sensitivity to the sun. Using sunscreen is essential when using products with citric acid to prevent sun damage.

  • pH level

Funny enough, we have listed pH level as a benefit, but note that excessive use can disrupt the skin's natural pH balance, leading to dryness and irritation.  

Is There a Citric Acid Allergy?

In short - no, because citric acid is not an allergen. If you are sensitive to citrus, you are probably responding to another fruit component. Many people react to citrus because it contains proteins similar to those found in airborne pollen. You can find a detailed explanation here   Today, citric acid can be found in countless skincare products, from cleansers and toners to serums and masks. Its popularity endures as consumers seek effective and natural solutions for their skincare needs. For instance, it is on the list of ingredients of FOREO's SUPERCHARGED™ HA+PGA Triple-Action Intense Moisturizer. This luxuriously rich yet fast-absorbing gel cream is clinically proven to increase skin moisture by 40% in just 15 minutes. Finally, we hope to have answered all your burning questions regarding citric acid in skincare (and if we haven't, feel free to ask in the comments below). It can benefit your skin if you know the rules of engagement and don't exaggerate using this gentle yet powerful substance. As usual, proper education is the key to achieving healthy and beautiful skin.   FOREO SUPERCHARGED HA+PGA Triple Action Intense Moisturizer on the table



MYSA user avatar
Karen Girimont 06/04/2024

When using citric acid to lighten Dark spots on my legs, will it also bleach my healthy normal skin if I get citric acid on that by accident?

MYSA user avatar
dora 09/04/2024

In reply to by Karen Girimont


Hi Karen, thank you for reaching out!

While citric acid can help lighten dark spots, it may also irritate healthy skin if accidentally applied. To minimize this risk, be precise in application, using a cotton swab for targeted areas. Conduct a patch test beforehand and always follow with sunscreen to prevent sun sensitivity. For personalized advice, consult a dermatologist.

Kind regards! :)


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