The sound of this is just harsh. I think that it does so mostly due to me thinking of stomach acid. However, make no mistake about it, citric acid is a good thing and something that you can and should think about incorporating into your skin care routine – if you don’t already. Chances are that you’re already using something that’s loaded with this ingredient. I’ve done all that I can to share my thoughts and knowledge related to this ingredient. Take some time to read up on things before you go buying any new skin care products.
All About Citric Acid
Okay, so here goes nothing! I’m sharing everything I know about citric acid and why you need to know about it as well. One ingredient that’s usually present in the majority of the skin and cosmetic products is citric acid. Mainly found in anti-aging products today, citric acid is used for several reasons, which I’ll explain now.
The Origin Of It
The name itself explains the origin of citric acid – it’s usually found in the citrus fruits, and that’s typically why these have an acid taste to them. If you’ve ever tried lemon juice, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. The chemist, Scheele, was the first one to isolate this acid, and it was isolated in crystalline form from lemon juice, which contains on average 5-8% of citric acid.
But, the citric acid manufactured today has almost nothing to do with citrus fruit, as it is made from strains of mold fed with sucrose, glucose or molasses medium. After the mold eats the sugary medium, it produces a large quantity of citric acid, which is then filtered, and precipitated with calcium hydroxide, producing calcium citrate. This is then treated with sulfuric acid, producing calcium sulfate and pure citric acid. Well, that’s all there is to it!
When you read any of the ingredient lists on the back of your products, if you see the number E330, this means that the product contains citric acid.
The Use of Citric Acid
The production of citric acid throughout the world is about 1.7 million tons. I’d say half of this is used as a regulator in drinks, 20% in foods, 20% in detergents and cleaning agents, and about 10% in personal care products, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. It’s this 10% used in personal care and cosmetics products that we are most interested in.
In skin care products, citric acid acts as an alpha hydroxy acid or AHA. The structure of the AHA is what delivers the benefits. The hydroxy group (-OH) is located on the alpha C atom in the acid (the one next to the carboxylic group) hence the name alpha hydroxy acid. There are also beta and gamma hydroxy acids which exist but I won’t go too deep into those right now.
Incorporating the citric acid in various skin care products is typically a play to become a regulator of acid levels. The skin’s natural acidity is between 4 and 6 pH, which means that it’s slightly acidic (neutral pH is 7). The overly acidic skin care product can damage the skin by causing irritation due to over-drying the skin, and the overly alkaline product will damage the lipid layer, causing irritation. So, a suitable acid needs to be added, and one such is the citric acid.
The alpha hydroxy acids are known for reducing the age-related skin issues like wrinkles, fine lines, sagging skin, and dark spots. AHA’s can stimulate the production of collagen, effectively smoothing the wrinkles and fine lines.
The Effects of Citric Acid
The citric acid is added to skin products not only as an acid regulator but also as a peeling agent. As noted above, the citric acid helps with collagen production, smoothing out fine lines/wrinkles, and brightening the tone, lastly refreshing the texture of the skin.
The top layer of the skin contains dead skin cells which may not shed naturally and remain on the top layer of the skin. When this happens, the wrinkles, acne scars and dark spots stand out like a sore thumb. By using the right ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids, this top layer will shed more easily, promoting the new growth of skin, faster than before. As a result, the new skin is dark spot free, acne scar free, and wrinkle-free.
Is This Ingredient Toxic?
Citric acid is a part of the biochemical cycle which takes place within the human body. It’s not dangerous to our health in general. When used in personal care e.g. cosmetics/beauty/skin products, citric acid is typically not an irritant. To the best of my knowledge, it does not cause any allergic reactions. That being said, citric acid is rated safe to use in these products.
Exposure to pure citric acid can cause irritation to the skin, and if inhaled or ingested, it can cause a sore throat and abdominal pains. If the skin care product contains a highly concentrated solution of citric acid (rarely done) it may cause irritation, redness, and pain. Otherwise, the normal use of citric acid has no known adverse effects.
One of the most widely used organic acids in cosmetics products is the one we’ve been discussing. Citric acid is good in a number of ways. It’s used as an acidity regulator, to bring the acid level of the skin care products to about a pH 5. It’s also used in anti-aging products as an exfoliant, helping consumers remove dead skin cells. The citric acid helps the skin reduce redness, the appearance of acne scars, wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots, and it also boosts collagen production.
It’s used in foods and drinks. So, don’t be afraid when you see citric acid on the list of ingredients, as this is a commonly used ingredient. If you’re debating on whether or not you should try this, my advice would be to sniff out a few products that contain this and give them a shot. You’ll find plenty on Sephora and other websites.