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Does succinic acid really help treat acne?

Discover the benefits of succinic acid for your skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Person Touching Their Face
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you struggle with acne, it’s natural to be curious about all the potential remedies that may help you banish breakouts. If that’s the case for you, you might be curious about succinic acid, an on-the-rise skincare ingredient that may have some benefits for acne-prone skin. But as with any new ingredient, it’s best to understand what it is, and if it’s safe and effective for addressing your skincare concerns, before incorporating it into your routine.

Succinic acid is used in a number of different ways, from fragrance to wine flavoring, but it may benefit your skin as well.¹ Let’s take a look at how it actually affects acne and how you can use it.

What is succinic acid?

Succinic acid is a chemical naturally found in animal and plant tissues, such as broccoli, beets, and sauerkraut. It comes from the fermentation of glucose and is used as a by-product of sugar fermentation, giving drinks like beer and wine an acidic taste. But that’s not all—succinic acid is also used in medicine, as fragrance for products, and as an additive in food.²

So how is it used in skincare? It has potential to help treat acne, and is a key ingredient in several serums, cleansers, and other topical skin care products. It’s not an exfoliant, but succinic acid has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that may allow it to combat acne, specifically C. (Cutibacterium) acnes, also known by its old name, P. (Propionibacterium) acnes.³ While succinic acid may benefit your skin, it's best to consult a licensed dermatology provider to determine which ingredients might be the most effective in treating your acne.

Can succinic acid treat acne?

Unlike salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur, succinic acid is not yet recognized by the FDA as an active ingredient that can treat acne.⁴ However, there is observational evidence to support these potential benefits of succinic acid for acne-prone skin.

  • It’s an anti-inflammatory: Studies show that succinic acid may reduce inflammation caused by acne—specifically, the injection and topical application of succinic acid may diminish inflammation caused by P. acnes.⁵

  • It revitalizes skin: Succinic acid enhances mitochondrial activity in skin cells, which may help improve skin rejuvenation, pigmentation, and homeostasis.⁶ ⁷

  • It interferes with bacteria growth: One study found that the fermentation in succinic acid may reduce overgrowth of P. acnes, which may lead to the future development of probiotics to help treat acne.⁸

  • It may help heal wounds: Studies show that succinic acid may accelerate injured tissue regeneration, cellular renewal, and wound repair.⁹ 

If you want to test out succinic acid for your acne, you may be wondering if there are any risks involved with the skincare ingredient. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Succinic acid is recognized as a safe substance by the FDA.¹⁰ That means when products are made with “good manufacturing” practices, the FDA doesn’t see any evidence that succinic acid is harmful to human skin or health.

  • Avoid using it if you’re allergic to amber or sugar cane. Succinic acid can be made synthetically, but it also may come from sugar cane or amber. If you’re allergic to either of these, stay safe and stay away from it.

How to use succinic acid for acne

Since succinic acid has recognized anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, it may be most helpful for acne-prone skin, as well as those with sensitive, inflamed, dry, or oily skin types. 

A licensed dermatology provider can help you find ingredients that may help treat your active blemishes, but if you’re looking to dabble in succinic acid acne products, here are a few tips.

  • Pair it with other hydrating ingredients: Succinic acid was found to help hyaluronic acid penetrate the skin more efficiently and with a stronger bond.¹¹ You may want to pair it with products that contain hyaluronic acid, like The Moisturizer.

  • Pair it with other ingredients that treat acne: Succinic acid may help with acne, but ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are FDA-approved acne treatments—using both may make for a more effective treatment. So, consider using succinic acid in addition to a product like our Acne Cleanser.

  • Use it before heavy creams: Succinic acid is water-soluble, so it won’t absorb into your skin well if you apply it over a heavy cream.¹² Try it in products that are used early on in your skincare routine, like toner or serum.

Curology Products

A personalized approach to acne

When it comes to breakouts, succinic acid may help treat your acne—or it may not. Either way, it’s important to find out what ingredients may work for your skin. Consulting a licensed dermatology provider, like the ones at Curology, may make all the difference in your skincare routine.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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And the good news is, Curology treats acne. When you become a patient, you’ll be assigned to a licensed dermatology provider in your state, who will create your personalized treatment plan. To get started, sign up for a trial today,* and get closer to reaching your skin goals.

FAQs

Can you use succinic acid every day?

Many people can use succinic acid safely every day, and the FDA recognizes it as a safe substance. If you feel any irritation, you may want to stop usage or use it less frequently. Consult a licensed dermatology provider to figure out what products may work for your skin.

What should you not mix with succinic acid?

You may want to avoid using succinic acid if you’re also applying exfoliating ingredients like retinol. However, it’s gentle enough that it shouldn’t interfere or negatively interact with most other skincare ingredients.

Is succinic acid better than salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is an FDA-approved ingredient for treating acne, while succinic acid is not. However, succinic acid may be gentler on human skin and has been shown to accelerate wound healing. Certain ingredients that treat acne may not be effective on your unique skin, so it may be helpful to consult a licensed dermatology provider at Curology to get a personalized approach to your skincare routine.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 1110, Succinic Acid. (2023, n.d.).

  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 1110, Succinic Acid. Ibid.

  3. Wang, Y., et al. Staphylococcus epidermidis in the human skin microbiome mediates fermentation to inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes: implications of probiotics in acne vulgaris. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. (January 2014).

  4. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. (2023, January 17).

  5. Wang, Y., et al. Staphylococcus epidermidis in the human skin microbiome mediates fermentation to inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes: implications of probiotics in acne vulgaris. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. Ibid.

  6. Theunissen, L., and Courbes, F. Succinic acid: a promising multi-functional ingredient for cosmetic and personal-care applications. Household and Personal Care Today. (March/April 2018).

  7. Sreedhar, A., et al. Mitochondria in skin health, aging, and disease. Cell Death Dis. (2020, June 9).

  8. Woo, T.E. and Sibley, C.D. The emerging utility of the cutaneous microbiome in the treatment of acne and atopic dermatitis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (January 2020).

  9. Ko, S.H., et al. Succinate promotes stem cell migration through the GPR91-dependent regulation of DRP1-mediated mitochondrial fission. Sci Rep. (2017, October 3).

  10. National Archives and Records Administration. Code of Federal Regulations: Title 21. (2023, March 3).

  11. Neves-Petersen, M.T., et al. Biophysical properties of phenyl succinic acid derivatised hyaluronic acidJ Fluoresc. (March 2010).

  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 1110, Succinic Acid. Ibid.

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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