Acids for Dark Skin Tones: A Dermatologist's Picks

Exfoliation? Brightening? Firming? There's an acid for that.

Hearing the words "acid" and "skincare" (opens in new tab) in the same sentence can be intimidating, especially if you're new to the world of alpha, beta, and poly-hydroxy acids—better known as AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs. And if you have melanin-rich skin (opens in new tab) like myself, I'm betting you're even more selective about the acids that you choose to use. Fact is, darker complexions are hyper-sensitive and prone to irritation, which can lead to lingering post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Yikes!

What do skincare acids do?

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Don't know where to start? Here's a primer: You've got a laundry list of exfoliating ingredients like glycolic and lactic acids (both AHAs) as well as salicylic acid (BHA) to tackle texture, uneven skin tone, clogged pores, breakouts, and wrinkles. You also have hydrating heroes like hyaluronic acid, which addresses dryness and skin elasticity. And then there are PHAs—considered newer cousins to AHAs—such as gluconolactone and lactobionic acids, which gently exfoliate and boast antioxidants.

Which acids are best for dark skin?

So which are safe and effective for dark skin tones? I spoke with NYC dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon Michelle Henry (opens in new tab) to put the confusion to rest. Ahead, we've highlighted eight standout treatments and their benefits to inspire your next (acid) trip to the beauty counter.

Chelsea Hall is the Assistant Fashion and Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she covers celebrity style, fashion trends, skincare, makeup and anything else tied into the world of fashion and beauty