What Is Fulvic Acid?
Fulvic acid is a type of exfoliator that is primarily made from the humic component in soil. “Humic” refers to the byproducts that occur from degradation of organic substances from microorganisms.
It has a small molecular weight, which is ideal for skincare products as it is more likely to penetrate the skin. Fulvic acid is considered a natural health product ingredient. Traditionally, it has been used to treat gastrointestinal issues and has been believed to support the immune system function (1). Fulvic acid has been used in ancient civilizations as an antioxidant and antiseptic agent.
Fulvic Acid For Acne
When it comes to acne, it is incredibly complicated to find the root cause. However, there are a few baseline contributors to acne formation that fulvic acid may be able to help with.
As acne is a chronic inflammatory disease, it is often associated with redness and inflamed skin that may manifest itself in the form of dryness, flaking, and irritation. Another skin condition with similar characteristics includes eczema.
Studies have shown that the use of fulvic acid may help with inflammatory conditions like eczema and acne, as it prevents cells from releasing pro-inflammatory molecules (1). It also reduces the pH of skin, which helps to maintain the skin’s moisture barrier and reduces itching associated with eczema.
One study of the topical application of a fulvic acid cream resulted in a significant decrease in erythema (redness) and severity of lesions (2).
A study of mice showed treatment of a swollen ear with topical application of fulvic acid reduced swelling and inflammation. This is similar to acne in which inflammation and swelling could occur (2).
What Is Retinol?
The skin is the body’s largest organ and is consistently exposed to environmental stressors including pollution, UV radiation, and other DNA damaging substances like cigarette smoke (3).
Cue retinol. Retinol is vitamin A, which cannot be synthesized by the body. We must receive it from external sources. Retinoids are a blanket term that encompasses vitamin A and its derivatives, including retinal and retinoic acid.
When applied topically, retinoids influence cellular processes. they bind to nucleic acid receptors on the surface of the skin to modulate DNA transcription, influencing the function of the epidermis and the deeper layers of the skin.
One type of retinoid includes tretinoin, which is a powerful retinoid that treats photoaging. In a study of patients topically applying tretinoin over the course of 3-12 months, significant improvements were noted including a reduction in photoaging and overall skin condition improved (3).
Retinol For Acne
Retinols take the longest amount of time to see differences in the skin as it has to be converted to multiple forms of retinoids, including retinal and then retinoic acid (4).
Retinols are comedolytic agents, meaning they inhibit the formation of comedones when applied topically over time. One type of retinoid includes adapalene, which is available over the counter and is generally well tolerated. It was specifically engineered for acne-prone skin and created with the intention that there would be less harsh side effects when using in comparison to tretinoin.
Retinol can target specific contributors of acne formation. Acne causes include increased sebum production from abnormal androgen production and abnormal desquamation of skin cells leading to clogged pores. Retinols can reduce keratinocyte proliferation which prevents clogged pores and helps regulate sebum production (4).
Can You Use Them Together?
Both of these ingredients are considered “active ingredients”. This means that they can change cellular processes to directly improve a specific condition. Since both fulvic acid and retinol interfere with cell systems, it can cause side effects such as redness or peeling while the actives do their job. These side effects can be amplified if both are used at the same time.
You don’t want to use too many harsh products on the skin, as this could cause damage to the skin barrier, which can lead to more acne and irritation.
If you do want to use both of these products, use them in separate regimens (one in the morning and one at night). Add them into your routine one at a time, and slowly by using them a couple of nights per week at first, and then move up to daily use. You can also alternate the use of these products by using fulvic acid one night and retinol the next night. Remember to moisturize heavily to reduce skin damage, flaking, and dryness.