Cover Dennis Gross, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon who has been in practice for 25 years.

The dermatologist and founder of his eponymous brand Dr Dennis Gross Skincare, answers all your burning questions about acids, retinol, and preventing maskne

From AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids) to the up-and-coming PHAs (polyhydroxy acids), acids have been taking over the beauty world for a while now, helping to resurface, clarify, and exfoliate the skin and imparting a fresh-out-of-facial glow.

But for the uninitiated, the idea of putting acids on your face can be daunting, and the world of acids can prove difficult to navigate. Thankfully, we’ve got Dr Dennis Gross to lead the way.

When it comes to acids, it’s difficult not to think of Dr Gross. The board-certified dermatologist is also the creator of the award-winning Dr Dennis Gross Skincare, which boasts a cult following for its Alpha Beta Daily Peels, a two-step home peel system with no down-time and highly raved results. Revolutionary for a time when peels were only available at clinics, Dr Dennis Gross Skincare remains the best-selling peel brand at Sephora today, counting celebrity fans like Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and more.

So is it really true that retinol can’t be used with acids? And are there skin types that are unsuitable for acids? We ask Dr Gross our burning questions.

What causes maskne? How do we prevent it?

Dr Dennis Gross (DDG) Wearing a mask is necessary to protect ourselves from Covid-19, but it can also cause maskne by trapping bacteria & humidity, creating a warm and moist environment where bacteria (including acne-causing bacteria) thrive. Here are some tips for preventing maskne:

  1. Keep the skin under the mask completely clean—no makeup, sunscreen, or skincare products. These can become trapped in pores, exasperating congestion.
  2. Wash your face with lukewarm water. Hot water can increase irritation.
  3. Do not pick or squeeze—this can actually make pimples worse.
  4. Do not use over-drying treatments with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide that strip the skin and throw it off balance, causing even more breakouts.
  5. Adding blue and red LED light into your regimen can help kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation. It will never cause irritation or over-dry the skin.
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Above "Our SpectraLite FaceWare Pro has both red and blue light so you can simultaneously reduce inflammation and target acne-causing bacteria while stimulating your skin’s own production of collagen—the key to healthy, younger looking skin," says Dr Gross.

What ingredients can we look out for to treat maskne?

DDG To tackle maskne, look for products that use a combination of strong, fast-acting ingredients with soothing and hydrating ones. For example, salicylic acid is great to decongest pores; azelaic acid regulates oil chemistry; farnesol kills acne-causing bacteria (and is a great, non-irritating alternative to benzoyl peroxide); and soothing ingredients like green tea and aloe help to calm inflammation and redness. You want to be careful when treating maskne, though, as the skin under the mask is already sensitive.

Additionally, look for products that are formulated with adaptogens. Adaptogens are basically superfoods on steroids—they have all of the benefits of superfoods and the unique ability to adapt to a person’s specific needs. Plus, they are really great at stimulating blood circulation and decreasing inflammation.

What are the biggest myths surrounding retinol?

DDG That all retinols are extremely harsh and will cause irritation—this is not true! Not all retinols are formulated equally. Our Ferulic + Retinol line, for example, combines retinol and ferulic acid which decreases sensitivity. We even have a Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum that is safe to use on the eyelid.

We are often advised against using acids and retinol together to avoid irritation. How does Alpha Beta Daily Peels combine them without being harsh on the skin?

DDG Again, it is all about the formulation and delivery system. The Alpha Beta Daily Peels are two steps—to be a peel, it must have two steps. Step one is the AHA and BHA—it combines multiple acids at lower concentrations so you are getting all of the benefits of each acid without the irritation. The second step is the neutraliser, which is loaded with tons of anti-ageing ingredients, including retinol, and soothing ingredients. With the second step, you are effectively “shutting off” the acids so you don’t see any irritation!

Who should use acids and who shouldn’t?

DDG Everyone can benefit from acids—the key is to find the right acid for your skin type. Each acid does something slightly different. For example, salicylic acid is oil-soluble and is great for breaking down oil in the skin and unclogging pores, ideal for people with oily skin. Citric acid and malic acid are great for reducing the appearance of brown spots; lactic acid helps speed up cell renewal, and lighten acne scars; glycolic acid has amazing anti-ageing benefits, and hyaluronic acid is great to boost hydration.

For people who are new to acids, how would you advise them to get started?

DDG Only use a two-step peel—it can be harsh otherwise. Also, it’s important that you look for products that contain multiple acids at low concentrations to avoid any irritation. You should never attempt to cocktail acids yourself, though. There is an art in formulating a combination of acids for the skin.

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