Anyone who’s ever dabbled in skincare knows that the industry is full of terms that, at best, can be a little confusing, and, at worst, can require pulling out your phone at the beauty store to look up what on earth niacin is. Reading ingredient labels might make you flash back to failing high school chemistry, and putting together a skincare routine feels like a daunting task. My routine should have how many steps? What’s all this about alpha hydroxy acids? Wait, are exfoliating and retexturizing the same thing? And, while we’re here, how often do I even need to exfoliate?
To explain this wide world of beauty jargon, we asked someone who knows a lot about skincare: Kirbie Johnson, the co-host of the podcast Gloss Angeles and a longtime beauty journalist with more than a decade of experience covering the industry. On her podcast, she and her co-host provide fun and practical beauty advice — breaking down everything you need to know about the ingredients in your skincare and makeup, as well as telling you about the products she thinks are actually worth it, based on her own trial and error.
One of the products she recommends? StriVectin’s new Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum, which helps exfoliate and hydrate the skin. Its formula is designed to help you wake up to a more radiant-looking complexion, plus visibly minimize pores and fine lines*. We asked Johnson to help us decode some of the serum’s ingredients below, in plain terms, so you don’t need to do any frantic internet searching. Read on for Johnson’s no-nonsense skincare glossary, plus her personal takes on commonly-asked beauty questions.
What is lactic acid?
Lactic acid, the main ingredient in StriVectin’s new Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum, can be helpful for a skin “glow up.” It helps give a razzle dazzle-effect because it’s known to visibly brighten and smooth the complexion. If you search lactic acid, you’ll notice it’s found in things like milk and tomato juice. (Don’t worry, you need not douse your face in either.) Lactic acid is one of the most-researched alpha hydroxy acids, which is why you will often find it in many exfoliating serums alone, or with its BFF glycolic acid. When you notice an immediate glow from a product, it’s usually the handiwork of lactic acid. It’s also considered more hydrating than other AHAs. And a fun fact: the lactic acid in StriVectin’s serum is vegan, meaning it’s derived from plants versus milk (or animal) products. This is typical for most lactic acid products in the U.S., but it’s good to be conscious of it!
On that note, what are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)?
AHAs are water-soluble acids that work to help remove the top layer of dead skin cells and include ingredients like glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, tartaric, and citric acid.
Why are acids important in a skincare routine? How do you use them?
Love acids. I embrace acids. Don’t become a chronic over-exfoliator, but I like to use them a few times a week. Alpha hydroxy acids are great for giving that immediate glowy look to the skin. Beta hydroxy acids are oil-soluble, so they get deeper within the pore to remove dead skin and sebum — this is why a lot of products include both AHAs and BHAs. There are acids that hydrate too, like hyaluronic acid and lactic acid.
How often do I really need to exfoliate?
As a reformed chronic over-exfoliator, it’s important not to overdo it with exfoliation. Doing too much can lead to all kinds of issues, like inflammation, which can be linked to acne, pigmentation, skin dehydration, and more. If you’re doing the most with your skincare routine and you feel like it’s a never-ending cycle of dry skin and breakouts, I’d suggest to take a step back.
Most products will state how often they should be used. The great thing about the Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum is that, as the name states, it’s formulated for nightly use, so you don’t have to worry about overdoing it. Lactic acid is generally more gentle than other chemical exfoliants, and I personally don’t experience issues when using it nightly. That said, if you’re just getting started with an exfoliator, in my opinion, you may want to use the product three days on, three days off so you reap the benefits of the chemical exfoliant, don’t get confused about when to incorporate it into your skincare routine, and see how your skin reacts. If you have super-sensitive skin, it’s better to start slow, maybe one to two times a week, to start and build up to nightly.
What’s the difference between “exfoliating” and “retexturizing”?
Great question. Exfoliating is the removal of dead skin. You can do this via physical exfoliants, like a scrub, or chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy, beta hydroxy, or polyhydroxy acids. Many “resurfacing” or “retexturizing” products will likely include chemical exfoliants for this reason, or even ingredients like retinol. They can help with things like pigmentation, smoothness and dull skin.
Moving back to ingredients. What’s niacin?
Also known as vitamin B3, what can’t this ingredient do? I find it helps with fine lines because of its hydrating properties, and with brightening. It’s become popular in the past few years because of its do-it-all characteristics. One reason I enjoy using the Nightly Retexturizing Serum is because StriVectin’s patented form of niacin helps strengthen the skin barrier and helps enhance the performance of the serum’s other ingredients. The brand is known for this form of niacin, and it’s found in your other favorite StriVectin products, too.
Speaking of other ingredients: can we talk about the wild world of “botanical extracts”?
There are so many botanical ingredients that are touted in skincare these days, mostly due to the “clean” beauty movement. And yes, I know essential oils sometimes get a bad rap, but blue cypress deserves recognition. It’s an essential oil from the cypress tree and helps with redness, something I’m clocking as a common skin concern this year. It’s soothing … and often touted as an anti-inflammatory ingredient. Another lovely botanical in skincare is hibiscus. It’s a gorgeous flower, but its potential for skin benefits are stunning, too: It [contains a compound called myricetin] that helps visibly smooth fine lines. It is a natural alpha hydroxy acid but also an antioxidant, which makes it great for AM or PM use. It’s been popular in Korean beauty for several years because of its visual anti-aging benefits.
Last thing: you hear about how important it is to use sunscreen after using an acid. Why?
You’re not doing yourself any favors if you avoid sunscreen or apply it improperly. Acids can make your skin more photosensitive, and if you’ve been working hard to exfoliate your skin for a smoother complexion or less pigmentation and don’t apply SPF after, it’s kind of like dumping your money into a garbage bin. Definitely use sunscreen after applying StriVectin’s Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum, and as a general rule, I wear SPF 30 every day.
*Results based on an expert clinical grader’s evaluation of 35 panelists who used StriVectin Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum one time. The evaluation showed improved radiance for 100% of panelists and improved softness for 97% of panelists.
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