The Acid-Based Routine That Completely Changed My Skin's Texture

I have naturally pretty ruddy skin—I'm super pale, redness-prone, sensitive to almost all allergens, and relatively large-pored (thanks, mom). Before I switched over to clean beauty and admittedly, even after, I used Kate Somerville's ExfoliKate religiously. If I had an event, a big interview, a wedding, I'd use ExfoliKate that morning or the night before for a foolproof way to get an instantly more even-toned, glowy complexion. Back then, there was no product I'd tried that could smooth and tone the skin as well this green-hued scrub-mask hybrid. Plus I was scarred by an acid peel gone wrong several years prior—I thought my skin couldn't handle acid-based products.

When more gentle exfoliants were available in the natural skin care realm, the ones I tried worked about 40 percent as well as ExfoliKate. so I stuck to it—until a few months ago. I had a facial with Danuta Mieloch, owner of the new-ish Rescue Spa in New York City, where she used the P50 toner on my face, neck, and décolleté in conjunction with microcurrent and lymph-draining facial massage. Even though it burned upon application, I purchased it that day and kept up a P50 regimen that would have made Danuta proud.

Photo: Lydia Hudgens

I'd tried P50 before but couldn't get down with the smell—it was also before Biologique Recherche made a phenol-free version. The Lotion P50 Original 1970 contains phenol, which is has been deemed toxic in large doses, but there are several versions of the toner that don't contain it, including the Lotion P50 PIGM 400, a formula that's helpful for hyperpigmentation, and the Lotion P50, which is the close to the original formula sans phenol. Other ingredients in the 1970 original that can be found across the line include water, glycerin, niacinamide, vinegar, ethoxydiglycol, magnesium chloride, lactic acid, burdock root extract, salicylic acid, sodium benzoate, and sulfur—all of which score a four or lower on the EWG's website, indicating a low to moderately low hazard level. Acids often score in the moderate category because they can irritate sensitive or normal skin.

This year, I've noticed that other brands are riffing on the success and efficacy of P50. REN Clean Skincare released its Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic that promises similar results, as well as the Perfect Canvas, which, like P50, uses lactic acid to prep the skin for other products and makeup. In a recent conversation with Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon, she spilled that she, too, loves the efficacy P50 provides as she gets older. Later this month, her company Moon Juice will release a natural, non-toxic, lactic acid–infused alternative for the adaptogen-loving crowd.

The routine that changed my skin, though, was using two of Drunk Elephant's acid-based products in tandem. In the evening after cleansing and spritzing a hydrating toner, I started applying Drunk Elephant's T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum six nights of the week. The other night I'd do a mask with T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, which is 25 percent AHA and 2 percent BHA. After just a few days, my colleague asked if I'd had "any work done," which is always a solid tell that a product is working. The Baby Facial is a high concentration of acid, so it may feel tingly or too intense—if it does, you can always wash it off before the recommended 20 minutes passes.

Using these two DE acid-based products together, along with a daily natural sunscreen—a must with a regular exfoliation regimen—made my complexion smoother, clearer, and, perhaps counterintuitively, less red. Most importantly, I felt more confident wearing a fresh face with minimal to no foundation.

In pursuit of clear skin too? This diet tweak made all the difference.

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