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This post also appears at the Purely Primal Skincare blog!
Citric acid is found in many skincare products, from the conventional drugstore stuff filled with unnecessary chemicals to the more natural, skin-friendly products we love to recommend in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide.
So…is it safe for the skin?
The answer is: yes, it’s safe in the proper concentrations (and any skincare product you can buy that contains citric acid uses this ingredient in safe concentrations – otherwise, they could get in major trouble). The Environmental Working Group ranks citric acid very low on potential toxicity as shown here.
Citric acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). In addition to buffering the acidity of skincare products to keep them at the proper pH for shelf stability, AHA can help enhance skin cell turnover – it’s like a natural exfoliant, without the scrubbing.
AHA is also found in unfiltered apple cider vinegar – which is one reason we love ACV! Alpha hydroxy acids can help brighten dull skin. Many “skin brightening” products will contain acids like this for this very purpose. These are often marketed as citrus scrubs, since citrus fruits contain citric acid.
But there are a few things to be aware of before you decide if citric acid is an ingredient that’s right for YOU.
While the EWG states that “[c]itric acid is naturally found in citric fruits and juices, providing the characteristic acidic taste,” the truth is, the citric acid found in many products is NOT, as this statement would make us believe, derived from citrus at all.
Citric acid can also be, and often is, derived from corn – often genetically modified corn, which makes up nearly all of the corn production in the United States today.
Those with severe corn allergies will always want to check the source of citric acid in their personal care products to ensure it’s derived from citrus and not corn. Often, this requires a call to the manufacturer as it won’t necessarily be disclosed on the label.
Further, if you’re concerned about the safety of GMO foods, or you’re simply avoiding them on principle, you may want to take this into consideration when looking at the ingredients labels on your cosmetics.
Many naturally and non-toxic skincare companies will proudly state their GMO status on their labels. Next to individual ingredients, they’ll add “non GMO.” You’ll often see this next to vitamin E ingredients or citric acid.
Check out the labeling here from Summer Sky Organics, one of my favorite skincare brands, for an example of this transparency with regards to GMO.
So, in short: yes, citric acid is safe; however, it’s important you consider the other ingredients also contained in the same product (do they fall on our list of ingredients to avoid?) and, of course, consider whether you’d like to avoid corn-derived or GMO ingredients in your cosmetics.
Thanks for reading!