Why Citric Acid can be an Effective Skin Care Ingredient


  • Citric acid belongs to a broader category of acids known as AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acid). AHAs play an essential role in skincare as they can reduce signs of aging like dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles.
  • Unlike other acids, citric acid possesses a unique feature, namely antioxidant properties.
  • Citric acid helps to adjust the 'Ph' level of products making them more stable and less alkaline.

The term citric acid may sound more like an ingredient in a smoothie recipe. The reason is that citric acid is one of the dominant edible acids.

It is widely used as a flavoring agent and preservative in various beverages and food products. Citric acid is a common dietary supplement on account of its vitamin content. However, given its exciting benefits, citric acid finds a prominent place in skincare too.

Citric acid is popularly used in cosmetics and skincare products. According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) 2016 Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program (VCRP), citric acid has been part and parcel of most cosmetic categories, accounting for 10,000 plus reported uses.

The Function of Citric Acid in Skin Care

Citric Acid is an amazing Skincare ingredient

Citric acid, as its name indicates, is commonly found in citrus fruits like lemon, grape berries, oranges, etc. When it comes to skincare, citric acid acts as a great exfoliating agent, bringing brightness to the skin.

Citric acid belongs to a broader category of acids known as AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acid). AHAs play an essential role in skincare as they can reduce signs of aging like dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. AHAs also help stimulate collagen production. Collagen is vital to keep our skin firm and elastic.

Unlike other acids, citric acid possesses a unique feature, namely antioxidant properties. Hence, citric acid can be your best friend when you step out, shielding you from environmental factors like solar radiation and pollutants that can wreak havoc on your skin.

Another essential aspect of citric acid is that it helps to adjust the 'pH' level of products, making them more stable and less alkaline.

Let us now look into the benefits of citric acid for skincare in more detail:

Benefits of Citric Acid for the Skin

#1 Packed with Antioxidants

Citric acid is loaded with antioxidants that protect the skin from toxins and pollutants. Once a person steps outside, various environmental pollutants and the harsh sunlight can damage the skin, resulting in acne, breakouts, sunburns, premature aging, etc. Citric acid helps to protect the skin's surface from these irritants and keeps it healthy.

#2 Lightens the Skin

Citrus fruits, in general, have been popular in skincare across centuries and various cultures. Lemon rinds, for instance, are used to lighten dark spots or are mixed with the bathwater. Citric acid has many healing properties. The AHA's it contains help to visibly brighten the skin. AHA's accomplish this by exfoliating the skin and eliminating the dead skin cells that lie on its surface. The new layer of skin that gets exposed from beneath is more radiant and bright. Citric acid thus helps in the skin's natural shedding process and makes it brighter.

#3 Balances Uneven Skin Tone

Citric acid, being an AHA, is a natural exfoliant and is perhaps the best way to even out the skin tone. It helps in managing dark patches, dark circles under the eyes, as well as age spots.

#4 Manages the pH of the skin

Citric acid is used to balance many skincare formulas to minimize its alkaline effect. A product that is too alkaline may deprive the skin of its essential natural lipids. At the same time, it's a gentle acid and hence, does not irritate the skin.

#5 Prevents Wrinkles

Citric acid is a famous agent to combat wrinkles. Various studies have shown how AHAs can be used to increase collagen production and increase the fibroblasts in the skin. Fibroblasts are innate cells located in the connective tissues that are responsible for the production of collagen and other fibers that compose the tissue structure. Collagen helps to keep the skin firm and smooth. By boosting collagen production, citric acid helps to keep the skin soft, elastic, and wrinkle-free.

#6 Repairs Sun Damaged Skin

When applied topically, citric acid repairs the skin barrier function by maintaining the optimal level of 'pH' in the outside areas of the epidermis. It prevents the sun's UV rays from penetrating deeper into the skin, controlling photodamage and deep pigmentation issues. Citric acid can, however, make the skin photosensitive hence using an SPF sunscreen product daily is advisable.

#7 Unclogs the Pores

Our skin's pores usually get clogged with dead skin cells, dirt, and bacteria leading to skin breakouts. Most skincare products use harsh exfoliants that forcibly scrape the skin to unclog the pores. Citric acid acts more gently by helping to disintegrate the glue that binds the skin cells together. In this way, the dead skin cells are gently exfoliated without any irritation to the skin.

Safety of Citric Acid

Citric acid is considered quite safe to be used on the skin. A review of data and literature on the safety of citric acid and its salts and ester was done by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel in 2014. The review revealed that the concentrations of citric acid, its salts, and esters used in cosmetics and skincare products were tolerable and did not cause any skin irritation, eye irritation, or any other allergic reactions on the skin. The CIR has concluded that citric acid is safe under the current conditions of use in cosmetics as well as personal care products.

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