Despite its sinister-sounding name, malic acid is far from malicious. In fact, movement would be very difficult without it. Your body produces malic acid naturally when converting carbohydrates into energy.
It’s also what gives foods like jam, candy, sherbet, wine, and other fruits and vegetables a tart, sour taste.
Malic acid can serve a cosmetic purpose too. It’s part of a family of fruit acids (called alpha-hydroxy acids) that appear in shampoos, facial moisturizers, nail treatments, and acne and anti-aging products.
Cleanses and Rejuvenates the Skin
Malic acid is celebrated for its ability to brighten the skin and smoothen its texture. That’s why it’s a common ingredient in anti-aging creams. Its benefits don’t stop at the surface — they’re literally skin-deep.
Collagen is a protein that helps build and repair cells. It gives the skin and other body tissues strength and flexibility. Collagen production slows down as you age, which is why skin loses its elasticity and firmness the older you get. “Malic acid at higher concentrations can also penetrate into lower levels of the skin to bring about new collagen formation,” says dermatologist Dr. Annie Chiu, director of the Derm Institute in California.
How does malic acid help with acne, exactly? Whether it’s in a lotion, cleanser, or light peeling agent, malic acid can help avoid the buildup of dead cells. When skin pores get clogged with too many dead skin cells and oil called sebum, bacterial infections can develop and cause acne breakouts.
“Malic acid breaks down the ‘glue’ that holds the dead skin cells together on the outer layer of the skin,” says Dr. Chiu. When these dead skin cells ease away, there’s less likelihood of a buildup of oils, dirt, and bacteria. “Your skin looks less dull and when your pores are unclogged, it helps reduce the formation of acne bumps and the discoloration that’s often associated with acne.”
While it sounds like a miracle cure, Dr. Chiu recommends sticking to low doses of malic acid. Unless your doctor recommends it, skin care products will contain all the malic acid you need to fight acne breakouts or saggy skin. Higher doses, such as supplements, should only be taken by prescription.
Help with Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain and fatigue in the muscles. Some research suggests that people who suffer from it also have a hard time producing malic acid. While there is little supporting evidence, one study found that a combination of high doses of malic acid and magnesium helped reduce pain and tenderness in the muscles of people with fibromyalgia.
The NYU Langone Medical Center recommends that people with fibromyalgia get between 1,200-2,800mg of malic acid per day, combined with magnesium. But note that fibromyalgia is a complex disorder. Always check with your doctor before taking new medications or supplements.
Unless your doctor recommends it for a particular condition, you can get all the malic acid your body needs from a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. And if you’re really that concerned about wrinkles, remember: A glass of Riesling is always more enjoyable than a pill!