Product Reviews

Is Succinic Acid the Acne Treatment We’ve Been Waiting For? An Editor Tried It

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This year, The Inkey List released its brand new Succinic Acid Acne Treatment with succinic acid as its superstar ingredient. Succinic acid is not a new ingredient, but it is relatively unknown and not commonly used in skincare (hence why you’ve probably never heard of it). The Inkey List is one of my favorite brands (I can’t get enough of the hyaluronic acid serum). I appreciate the effectiveness of their products, price point, and commitment to education and transparency. When they launched this product, I remember thinking to myself, “if succinic acid is such a big deal, why is no one else talking about it?” So, I decided to dig deeper into what succinic acid is, what it is not, and if this ingredient is really the next big thing to cure all your acne woes. Plus, I tried it.



What Is The Inkey List’s Succinic Acid Acne Treatment?

This is a new product touted to clear acne blemishes fast, reduce oil levels, and prevent clogged pores. The treatment features 2 percent sulfur, 2 percent succinic acid, 1 percent salicylic acid, and 0.4 percent hyaluronic acid. To use, The Inkey List suggests applying a small amount directly onto the blemish after cleansing skin. This can be done up to three times a day, and the formula can be worn under makeup. 

The INKEY List
Succinic Acid Acne Treatment
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What is Succinic Acid?

Succinic acid is a chemical compound that naturally occurs in plant and animal tissue. According to Michelle Wong of Lab Muffin, a science educator and skincare enthusiast with a PhD in Chemistry, it is commonly used as a pH adjuster. The benefit of using succinic acid over the traditional salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide is that succinic acid is found to be more gentle and non-drying, making it a good option for sensitive or irritated skin. While The Inkey List is not the first to incorporate succinic acid into a skincare formulation, they have highlighted and marketed the ingredient in a way that is new to the skincare community.

Other products with succinic acid:

Hada Labo
Hyaluronic Lotion
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Acne Relief Maximum Strength Spot Gel
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Hyaluronic Acid Complex Serum Drops
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Acne Relief Calming Treatment & Hydrator
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Resurfacing Face Serum
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What doesn’t succinic acid do?

Succinic acid is not an acne ingredient. That’s right, succinic acid has yet to be proven as an acne-fighting ingredient and has no peer-reviewed studies done specifically on acne. So, how can The Inkey List claim this as an acne-fighting product? That’s because the treatment contains two very well-known and studied acne fighters: sulfur and salicylic acid. With the presence of sulfur and salicylic acid, it cannot be definitively said that any benefits you would get from the product are coming from the succinic acid itself. Salicylic acid is listed as the only “active ingredient” in the formulation. Without it, the product can not be legally claimed for the treatment of acne. 



What does the research say about succinic acid?

Not much. The Inkey List highlights three key claims in their research of this product; however, not one of the key claims actually relates to the treatment of acne or blemishes as the product name would suggest.

  • 84 percent of people agree this product didn’t dry out skin​
  • 96 percent agreed this product was gentle on the skin​
  • 85 percent agreed this product was not visible under makeup


My Review

After trying The Inkey List’s Succinic Acid Acne Treatment for a few months, I would say the product is just OK. While the green-colored formula is lightweight, creamy, and easy to apply, the treatment was only occasionally effective in reducing inflammation and calming down some of my spots.



It is important to apply the treatment directly onto an active blemish only, and The Inkey List suggests you wait five minutes before applying the rest of your skincare or makeup routine. I’ll admit, I never did this. I prefer to do my skincare routine while my face is damp, and to be honest, I just don’t have the time or patience to wait. Overall, the product is not something I could consistently count on. If it did clear blemishes, it did so at an extremely slow rate which is not ideal if you have a big Zoom call in two days. Instead, I’ve switched over to Paula’s Choice BHA 9 Treatment. It comes at a price tag of $43 for just 0.3 fl oz (compared to The Inkey List $8.99 for 0.5 fl oz), but with 9 percent salicylic acid, it gets the job done–and fast! So far, it’s the best spot treatment I’ve used, and I prefer to pay more if it means I get to go to bed at night with peace of mind that whatever demons have formed on my face will not prosper against me.

Paula's Choice
Skin Perfecting BHA 9 Treatment
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Overall, succinic acid could be promising. However, a burden of proof still exists, one that The Inkey List has yet to provide.