In the world of skincare, acids are often touted as automatic prescriptions for everything from acne, to skin texture, to oil, to wrinkles — but it can be hard to tell the difference between them, and which is the best to use for which target problem. Both are featured prominently across a slew of cult skincare products from the trendiest brands. Fear not, this Gazette Gal guide is always here to help you as you confusedly navigate the aisles of your nearest Sephora.

First, let’s talk about acids themselves. Facial acids, according to the Cleveland Health Clinic, are exfoliants — the chemical kind, not the St. Ives scrub —until-you-drop kind. They slough off dead skin cells, revealing new, fresh, brighter skin underneath. Acids are divided into two categories: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). AHAs are water soluble, and dissolve the bonds between skin cells to increase your cells' natural turnover process. BHAs are oil soluble, and remove dead skin by penetrating the skin and dissolving sebum oil that contributes to acne. 

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Glycolic acid, an AHA, is typically more suited toward sensitive or dry skin types, but effective enough to improve skin texture. Out of all AHA’s, glycolic acid has the smallest molecules, which allows your skin to absorb it better than other acids.. Funnily enough, it comes from another oft-used exfoliant — sugarcane. Glycolic acid is typically used to treat acne, sun damage, scarring, and aging. It speeds up your collagen production and prevents its breakdown, which usually occurs from spending too much time in the sun. 

Salicylic acid, however, is a BHA. A key weapon in any dermatologist's acne-fighting kit, it reduces not just active blemishes but skin redness, due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It's a whiz at treating blackheads, whiteheads, inflamed pimples (you know the ones), and oily skin. Salicylic acid is best used in products like serums, facemasks, moisturizer, rather than cleansers or sprays, to maximize its effectiveness in repairing the skin. If you do use salicylic acid, make sure to pair it with an effective lotion, since it might dehydrate dry skin due to its oil-reducing properties. 

TL;DR, glycolic acid is better for overall skin texture and scarring, while salicylic acid acts as a more immediate relief against acne. Both exfoliate the skin and increase its sensitivity to the sun, which is why you should always wear SPF during the day after applying at night. Which one you choose to incorporate into your routine depends on what your skin type is and what your skincare goals are — let us give you some ideas with our favorite products. 

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