WATER: ACID’S ADVERSARY
We all love using acids in our skincare routine. Often times, the acid is left behind in which case, it may not be the best idea to layer it with a hydrophilic product. Here’s why (in theory):
An acid is usually listened as “HA” in biochemistry annotations. When it combines with water, strong acids will donate their Hydrogen (H) to water, thus creating H3O+ (we often see this written as H+ which signifies hydrogen ions — the more hydrogen ions means the more acidic something is).
The interesting thing about water is that it can act as both an acid and a base. What that means is that it can work to soak(base) up hydrogen ions or give them up (acidic)- the idea here is that acids and bases are opposites of each other (a weak acid is a strong base and a strong acid is a weak base and so on).
For the sake of this discussion, let’s stick to acids and what happens to them around water.
The ability of an acid to “give away” Hydrogen ions is what gives it the foundation of being a disruptive substance in any biochemical or molecular environment. Hydrogen ions disrupt bonds. Bonds that are found between cells and help hold them together, for example. Chemistry is a give and take approach and so when you think about something mixing together on a Chemical level, it’s important to realize that one molecule is giving something up, and the other is taking- such is the relation between water and acids.
When water combines with anything, it creates what chemists called a “hydrogen shell” around that other molecule- surround and conquer approach! Since water is polar (both acidic and basic), it can combine into these matrix like structures to surround other molecules and thus “dissolve” them and destabilize their pH properties. In other words, a strong acid will be surrounded, cornered, and stripped of its precious hydrogens (hydro GEMS 💎…was funnier in my head).
So back to skincare then. When we apply an acid treatment to the skin, we must make sure it is fully dry and does not have any “left over” water from cleansing etc. If we were to apply on top of the water, our products would get diluted to some degree and thus become less “potent.” This could lead to incomplete exfoliation, more irritation and various skin reactions.
Some could say water is just a big bully that wants to stop our skincare heroes from doing what we need them to do, but also a necessary evil because where there is water there is life.
Author: Ekta Y. MD MBA MSc
- Image credit: https://www.jove.com/science-education-library/117/acids-and-bases
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