Malic acid is a substance found naturally in apples. It's considered an alpha-hydroxy acid, a class of natural acids commonly used in skin-care products. Also sold in dietary supplement form, malic acid is said to offer a variety of benefits.
When applied to the skin, malic acid is used to reduce signs of aging (including wrinkles), remove dead skin cells, aid in the treatment of acne, and promote the production of collagen (a type of protein that serves as a major component of your skin).
Malic acid is also used to improve sports performance when taken in supplement form. Proponents claim that malic acid can boost endurance during exercise and help fight off fatigue.
In addition, consuming malic acid in combination with magnesium is sometimes said to alleviate symptoms of fibromyalgia (including pain).
A number of early studies published in the 1990s and early 2000s indicate that malic acid may be beneficial when applied to the skin. In tests on animals and human cells, the studies' authors found that malic acid may help increase collagen production and reverse sun-induced signs of aging in the skin.
More recent research on topically applied malic acid includes a small study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology in 2013. For the study, researchers assigned 35 people with melasma (a common disorder marked by patches of abnormally dark skin) to a skin-care regimen that included the use of topically applied vitamin C and malic acid.
At an average follow-up of 26 months, the regimen was found to be an effective short-term treatment for melasma.
To date, few studies have tested the health effects of taking malic acid in supplement form. However, there's some evidence that malic acid may offer certain benefits when ingested.
Although there's a lack of recent research on malic acid's effectiveness as a fibromyalgia treatment, a small study published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 1995 found that taking malic acid in combination with magnesium helped alleviate pain and tenderness in people with fibromyalgia. For the study, researchers assigned 24 fibromyalgia patients to treatment with either a placebo or a combination of malic acid and magnesium. After six months, those treated with the malic acid/magnesium combination showed a significant improvement in pain and tenderness.
Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of malic acid supplements. However, there's some concern that intake of malic acid may trigger certain side effects such as headaches, diarrhea, nausea, and allergic reactions.
Although malic acid is generally considered safe when applied to the skin in the recommended amount, some people may experience irritation, itching, redness, and other side effects. It's a good idea to patch test new products.
In addition, alpha-hydroxy acids are known to increase your skin's sensitivity to sunlight. Therefore, it's important to use sunscreen in combination with skin-care products containing any type of alpha-hydroxy acid.
Keep in mind that malic acid shouldn't be used as a substitute for standard care. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.
You can get additional tips on using supplements here, but if you're pregnant or nursing, are taking medication or supplements, or have a health condition (such as heart or kidney disease), it's particularly important that you talk with your doctor before taking any new supplement.
Malic acid is found in fruits and vegetables and is produced naturally in the body when carbohydrates are converted into energy.
Using malic acid as part of your skin care routine may help with concerns such as pigmentation, acne, or skin aging. But keep in mind that it's a good idea to patch test when using new products and to avoid the eye area.
While some research suggests that malic acid supplements, with magnesium, may help people with conditions like fibromyalgia, high-quality clinical trials are needed. If you're still considering using it, consult your doctor before taking it to discuss the potential risks and benefits.
Kim SJ, Park JH, Kim DH, Won YH, Maibach HI. Increased in vivo collagen synthesis and in vitro cell proliferative effect of glycolic acid. Dermatol Surg. 1998 Oct;24(10):1054-8.
Kim SJ, Won YH. The effect of glycolic acid on cultured human skin fibroblasts: cell proliferative effect and increased collagen synthesis. J Dermatol. 1998 Feb;25(2):85-9.
Rodrigues LH, Maia Campos PM. Comparative study of the effects of cosmetic formulations with or without hydroxy acids on hairless mouse epidermis by histopathologic, morphometric, and stereologic evaluation. J Cosmet Sci. 2002 Sep-Oct;53(5):269-82.
Russell IJ, Michalek JE, Flechas JD, Abraham GE. Treatment of fibromyalgia syndrome with Super Malic: a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, crossover pilot study. J Rheumatol. 1995 May;22(5):953-8.
Taylor MB, Yanaki JS, Draper DO, Shurtz JC, Coglianese M. Successful short-term and long-term treatment of melasma and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation using vitamin C with a full-face iontophoresis mask and a mandelic/malic acid skin care regimen. J Drugs Dermatol. 2013 Jan;12(1):45-50.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.