Malic Acid



Malic Acid at a glance

  • Exfoliating ingredient derived from unripe fruit
  • Has properties of both an alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid
  • Ideal exfoliating range is between pH 3-4
  • Also used as a food additive

Malic Acid description

Malic acid is an exfoliating ingredient derived from unripe fruit. It also occurs naturally in the human body as a by-product from turning carbohydrates into energy. Although it’s technically a beta hydroxy acid ingredient, it is primarily classified as an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) because its hydroxyl group in the alpha position is believed to be dominant to the beta hydroxyl group. Also, it is not known to be oil-soluble like traditional beta hydroxy acid salicylic acid. Malic acid is used in cosmetics to adjust a product’s pH and, in an acidic pH range ideally between 3 and 4, as a mild exfoliant that can be used in lower concentrations (typically between 1–2%) to boost the efficacy of other AHA exfoliants such as glycolic and lactic acids. In foods, malic acid is sometimes added to impart a sour or tart flavour. In its raw form, malic acid appears as white or colourless crystals. It is considered safe as used in leave-on and rinse-off cosmetics.

Malic Acid references

  • The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, August 2018, pages 21-28
  • Molecules, April 2018, page 863
  • Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open, December 2016, ePublication
  • Biological Research, January 2015, ePublication
  • Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigative Dermatology, November 2010, pages 135-142

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not rated

We have not yet rated this ingredient because we have not had a chance to review the research on it.