So with the "basics" of skincare steps out of the way I'm going to start with extra steps or treatments that could be beneficial to you or you may not like the idea at all. It's completely up to you. I always say "every skin has it's own cocktail". So whatever works for Sally may not provide the same result for Suzie. I'm going to start the "treatments" portion with "Acid Toning". I will be referring to them as AHA's and BHA's. I'll try to make this as plain spoken and as short as I can but bear with me.
First off AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and BHA stands for Beta Hydroxy Acid. The use for acid toning is multi functional but the bigger benefit that I notice is they exfoliate the skin by resurfacing the skin, not scrubbing the skin like a traditional scrub exfoliator. Basically the acid dissolves the dead skin cells on the epidermis if you want to look at it that way, which then promotes the body to making new skin cells or "cell regeneration". The benefits of acid toner is that it reduces texture, brightens, it helps with pigmentation issues, tones, promotes moisture (AHA), lessen the look of wrinkles, etc. AHA tend to be best for normal to drier skin types, and BHA seems to do better for oily or problematic skin.
There are several types of AHA's:
There is only one BHA:
Salicylic Acid: you will find this in nearly every clarifying, acne, oily skin, product that is marketed to help with oil control, breakouts, clarifying the skin or helping with clogged pores, etc.
AHA's are what I tend to use the most. To me they're a little more effective. The most popular being Glycolic first (because it's the smallest molecule), followed by Lactic Acid. Glycolic is the one that penetrates the deepest meaning that it is able to go further down into the dermis or lipid barrier and cause those lipids, that are holding the dead cells together, to weaken and let those cells go so new cells regenerate. Thus giving you a lot smoother, more even, and younger looking skin. Especially beneficial for sun damage. Lactic Acid doesn't penetrate as deeply and, isn't as strong I don't feel, as Glycolic. It does resurface the skin though on the top and is very helpful for hydration, uneven skin tone, and brightening the skin. There are also lots of "acid complexes" or blends of acids both AHA and BHA in products to work in every area. The Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos Serum is a good example it's a 12% AHA and BHA blend, which is why I think it's so popular because it is milder than some products but still effective and can suit many different skin types. As far as treatments go, I think acids are the best bet. I like them more than Retinols and facial oils, even though I like them as well and use them often. I find acid toning to be the most beneficial for my skin at least. Mainly from a texture and even skin tone point. I feel like it's really balanced out my oil production as well.
As to when to use them or where to add them into your routine. I use them at night mostly. There are a few that I may try during the day but not many. I prefer them at night. I cleanse and then I usually tone straight away with an acid. In some cases depending on what I'm using, how strong it is, or what form it is in, I may use a botanical mist or liquid "lotion" or toner and then use the AHA or vice versa. So for instance I really love Indie Lee Co-Q10 Liquid Toner so I will use it after I've cleansed and then go to my acid that I'm using or use it after my AHA to soothe it really just depends on what product I'm using and what form it's in. With mists they're kinda easy to use anywhere, especially if they're a soothing mist so I may do that at the very end of the whole routine for the night just as a cooling/soothing quality.
Here's the warning though, acids are not to be played with. So be careful with what you're using. You definitely don't want to do too much too soon, or pair it up with another strong product. You may not even need an acid toner at this point in your life. They also can leave your skin sensitive and more prone to sun damage. If you do too much either by using a very high strength or using another very strong product with it like a high percentage Vitamin C or strong Retinoid/Retinol you can damage the skin, make it raw, or actually burn the skin. So again, pay attention. I tend to use mine at night with a less potent Retinol with my regular AHA/BHA products, I've not had an issue using both in the same routine as long as they weren't super strong. With very strong acids I won't use retinol that night at all or a specific Vitamin C. When I rotate a potent Retinol in I go easy on the acid and Vit C or skip them all together. I use most of my Vitamin C during the day no higher than 10%. If it's higher than that I use the Vitamin C at night and don't do a retinol and sometimes not an acid either. So to sum that up: go easy, start slow.
Here's my top 5 AHA products:
My top favorite and first real "acid" that I incorporated into my routine was Sunday Riley Good Genes. I bought it in the set that is the "Power Duo" I believe, at Sephora. It's Good Genes and Luna which is a mild retinol, very mild. Good Genes is Lactic Acid. I find it pretty potent to be honest. Lactic is known more so to work better at resurfacing the very top layer of skin instead of penetrating as deep as Glycolic Acid. Glycolic Acid is the most common and the smallest molecule thus the reason it penetrates the skin where others kinda sit on top. Good Genes isn't cheap but, there's no denying that it works and is a good product in my opinion. If you're starting out and just not sure then possibly try The Ordinary Lactic Acid serums, there are 2 that specifically say "Lactic Acid" one is 5% and one is 10%. I have the 10% it's not as strong as my other acids but it may be a nice stepping stone to start with as far as Lactic Acid specifically.
My favorite strong acid that I use like once or twice a week because that's how potent it is, is Exuviance Performance Peel AP25 Pads. I love acids that are a "pad" that way you don't use too much or waste product. So I tend to like that best. The acid is 25% AHA/PHA blend. You use the acid pad first, don't leave on for more than 3 minutes. Then use the neutralizer pad to take away the tingle and such and then rinse off right after. Obviously, you don't have to leave it on that long. I don't recommend it for first timers but if you want to step your acid game up then there is no company I trust more than Exuviance and Neostrata (which Exuviance is a branch from Neostrata). They are top in skincare development, research, new technology, etc.
Another "pad" type of product that I enjoy for milder days is the Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Pads. They are a 20% complex of Glycolic, Lactic and Salicylic (BHA) along with different Amino Acids and antioxidant benefits. Some people with more sensitive skin tell me this feels a bit strong for them but I don't find it that strong on myself. I very much like the blend of AHA/BHA in products. Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos serum is a 12% AHA/BHA blend I don't exactly like that product because other things have worked better for me but many people do love it and I don't think it's a bad serum by any means.
Yet another "pad" is the Cane + Austin 20% Miracle Pads. This smells very strong and it also feels pretty strong. They have other percentages as well. This one is their best seller and kinda a "cult favorite" in the "acid toning" realm of skincare. I hear it mentioned quite a bit. I like them very much, I definitely think they're stronger than the PTR pads above but not as strong as the Exuviance Performance Peel pads.
Lastly is actually a very affordable AHA and it's Glycolic. It's a liquid. It's The Ordinary Glycolic Toning Solution 7%. It's very simple, as is most of The Ordinary line. Very basic and a low percentage which would be a good place to start for Glycolic Acid or just acid in general possibly. Some people don't do well with Glycolic so don't let that scare you away from AHA's all together. Side note: this is a lot of product I think it's around 8 fl oz.
I tend to like my acid toning in a liquid or pad the most because it absorbs very fast. Because of that, it's very easy to layer stuff on top, especially soothing products.
Some honorable mentions in other forms and uses:
Neostrata Glycolic Foaming Wash. It's my favorite cleanser in general. I don't use it when I need a very gentle product. However, I will use it if I'm doing a mix of Vit C that is kinda strong, Retinol is in the mix, etc. It's 20 AHA/Bionic blend. It's 18% Glycolic and 2% Bionic.
Clinique liquid toners or "lotions" as they call them. They're kinda the first products that everyone starts with especially acne or problematic skin and teens. The Mild Clarifying Lotion tends to be the favorite choice among most. It's only Salicylic Acid (BHA).
First Aid Beauty Radiance Pads are also a good choice, I think, for teens that may have some breakouts and a milder choice as well if someone just wants to try "acid toning" or "acid exfoliation". They're sold in a variety of places and they aren't super expensive. Sephora often has value sets from FAB that include the Radiance Pads (like a 20 count) a cleanser, and lip balm for $15. The regular amount of the product isn't very expensive though.
I hear Pixi Glow Tonic is very nice, I can't speak to it unfortunately because I can't get my dang hands on it, it's always sold out anywhere local and it pains me to pay the shipping when I know I can get it at Target. The offer it in a liquid form and now they offer it in a pad form as well. Very affordable so definitely worth a try I think. Highly recommended by Caroline Hirons and that's enough for me because I feel like she speaks the Gospel of Skincare.
A stronger "treatment" that is potent but affordable is The Ordinary AHA 30% BHA 2% Peeling Solution. Don't get alarmed, it goes on bright red. Like a strawberry syrup. You only leave it on for so long and then you take it off. It will make you a little pink but it quickly fades away. I think the Exuviance Performance Peel can be "felt" a little more but still it's not bad and I do use it.
A new one that I just got that I'm loving is from REN Skincare. The Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask. It's completely "clean" and it has the 4 AHAs of Glycolic, Lactic, Citric, and Tarteric acid in it. It's a mask. You apply a good amount (like one pump) to the face, it's quite thick and gooey, leave on for 10 minutes then take it off. I did note some slight "tingle" from this and my skin had went a bit pink (which is a good sign. I mean don't get carried away and make it go deep red and burn yourself but pink and tingling is a good sign that it's working. I find that you get adjusted to the products quickly though so that's why I rotate them out everyday.). It was a really nice treatment and I have enjoyed using it immensely so far. It also has other skincare benefits too and it's goal is to have the brightening more "radiant" look to the skin after using it. I like products, especially masks, that multi-task.
Ok that's it for now. Still a lot of "steps" to go, as far as what is out there that may be of benefit to you. Not saying that every step in the "treatment" category is absolutely necessary that's why we did the basics first. Hopefully though this will be helpful in possibly understanding and trying or adding a new step to your skincare routine. That's what it's here for, is to be helpful.
I'm from Tennessee. I'm a makeup and skincare lover. I have always enjoyed creating looks but I love to help people with product knowledge and application even more. I've been able to do these things because God has seen fit to bless me with the opportunity.