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There’s a New Acne-Fighting Skincare Ingredient in Town

Bonus: It won’t stress out your skin.

There’s a New Acne-Fighting Skincare Ingredient in Town
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

If you've dealt with acne, then you're more than familiar with the household names used to tame it: glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide, to name a few. And while, yes, many of these ingredients are pretty effective at ridding pimples from the skin, it can sometimes come at the cost of irritation, especially if you have moody, sensitive, combination skin like me. I feel like I’ve been searching forever for an ingredient that eliminates my zits without leaving my skin stressed or irritated.

And then I discovered succinic acid. This anti-inflammatory skincare ingredient is just as effective as its more famous counterparts, but it’s less aggressive on the skin. Below, I speak with three experts to learn exactly how succinic acid works and why it just might be the delicate acne ingredient missing from your routine.

What is Succinic Acid?

Succinic acid is an ingredient derived from sugar cane with anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. “It’s been recently identified as a fermentation byproduct that can adjust the natural microbiome of the skin to help it mimic healthy skin versus one that is more acne-prone,” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian, an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist.

And there might be a reason why you haven’t heard of succinic acid, according to Face Gym founder Inge Theron. “While it’s been used in European countries for years due to its medicinal benefits, succinic acid is relatively new to the beauty industry,” she says.

What Are the Benefits of Succinic Acid?

This keen ability to trick the skin into forming a healthier-looking complexion suppresses bacteria, decreases inflammation, and can lead to fewer pimples. “Succinic acid is safe for all skin types and can be used for acne because it stops the growth of bacteria and fungi without the side effects of irritation,” says Dr. Lauren Moy, a double board-certified dermatologist at Golden State Dermatology.

What Makes Succinic Acid Different From Other Acne-Fighting Ingredients?

“Succinic acid doesn’t exfoliate the skin like other acids, and it’s more hydrating,” says Dr. Moy. While the jury is still out on how well succinic acid can fare on its own against acne, it’s very useful combined into a product that also contains your typical acne-fighting BHAs, like salicylic acid, or even sulfur, to help minimize post-application redness or irritation. Succinic acid also contains antioxidant properties, which help protect the skin from UV damage and pollution.

What Ingredients Can and Cannot Mix with Succinic Acid?

While succinic acid generally plays well with other skincare ingredients, Dr. Nazarian recommends avoiding using succinic acid directly before applying potent exfoliating acids like glycolic or lactic acid. “Succinic acid is meant to balance the microbiome, so using ingredients that strip everything off the skin afterward can negate those benefits,” she says.

Instead, opt for acne-fighting products formulated with succinic acid and other active ingredients. The best part is that there are various formats to choose from: it can be found in serums, lotions, and cleansers. And you’ll often find that most of these picks will feel featherlight on the skin. “Lightweight formulas are the best for decreasing acne-causing bacteria,” Dr. Nazarian notes.

Who Should Use Succinic Acid?

Most skin types tolerate succinic acid very well, and because of its ability to decrease post-application irritation, it’s often a safe bet for reactive and sensitive skin. As always, check in with your dermatologist to get the final word. If you decide to incorporate succinic acid into your routine, Dr. Moy advises using sunscreen after applying products containing it, as it may increase skin sensitivity to the sun.

How To Incorporate Succinic Acid Into Your Routine

When adding succinic acid to your routine, Dr. Moy suggests using it once daily, preferably in the evening. “Begin with a lower concentration of the product and gradually increase frequency and concentration if your skin tolerates it well,” she says.

Best Succinic Acid Skincare Products

Succinic Acid Acne Treatment

You can apply this gentle spot treatment on its own or under makeup to help visibly reduce the size of pimples. A trifecta of two percent succinic acid, two percent salicylic acid, and one percent sulfur works to unclog pores and absorb excess oil for a clearer complexion.

The Inkey List

Pro-Collagen Energising Marine Cleanser

Succinic acid meets lactic acid in this refreshing face wash that helps clarify and even out skin texture. It also contains a powerhouse antioxidant, ferulic acid, and a mineral-rich blend of magnesium, zinc, and copper to help improve skin elasticity and radiance.


 Miracle Clear Barrier Cream

“A good option for sensitive skin, [this cream] also contains panthenol and vitamin B5, in addition to succinic acid, which is wonderful for building a healthy, moisturized skin barrier,” says Dr. Nazarian.

Rael Beauty
$13 $12

Skin Changer Succinic Acid Essence-Toner

“Succinic acid is incorporated into this two-in-one exfoliating essence-toner for its quick and potent properties, providing several benefits such as skin brightening, exfoliation, and blemish treatment,” says Theron. Dispense a few drops onto the palm of your hand and apply to damp skin for best results.

Face Gym

Gentle Clear Triple-Action Acne Treatment Serum with Salicylic Acid

This lightweight serum has rave reviews on Amazon and contains PHA, BHA, prebiotics, and succinic acid to minimize breakouts without irritation or dryness.

$15 $10

Acne Relief Calming Treatment & Hydrator

Succinic acid and BHAs fight acne-causing bacteria in this serum lotion that visibly clears up skin. It also contains squalane for a hydrated, matte finish.

Perricone MD
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