Malic acid is a substance found naturally in apples and pears. It belongs to the class of natural acids known as alpha-hydroxy acids, which are frequently included in skin care formulations. Malic acid is promoted as having many uses, so much so that it is sold as a dietary supplement.
Advantages to Health
Malic acid is a natural byproduct of the body’s breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose, and it can be found in a variety of plant-based foods. Although some studies have shown promising results for malic acid supplementation in treating certain conditions, more rigorous clinical trials are required to draw firm conclusions.
Some research suggests that taking malic acid supplements may provide these advantages:
Advantages for Your Skin
Malic acid has been found to have anti-aging, dead skin cell removing, acne fighting, and skin hydration benefits when applied topically.
Research published in the 1990s and 2000s suggests that topical application of malic acid may have health benefits. Using both animal and human cell models, the authors of these studies found that malic acid had the potential to boost collagen production and counteract the effects of sun damage on the skin.
One small study on the topical application of malic acid was published in 2013 in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.
Topical vitamin C and malic acid were part of a skin-care regimen prescribed to study participants with melasma, a common disorder characterised by patches of abnormally dark skin. Short-term use of the regimen was found to be effective in treating melasma at a mean follow-up of 26 months.
When taken as a supplement, malic acid is also used to improve athletic performance. It’s sometimes mixed in with creatine supplements to help the body absorb the creatine more effectively. Proponents claim that malic acid can promote energy production, increase exercise endurance, and help fight off muscle fatigue.
Researchers in 2015 looked into how well a creatine-malate supplement worked for sprinters and distance runners, and their findings were published in Acta Physiologica Hungarica.
Sprinters saw significant improvements in peak power, total work, body composition, and elevated growth hormone levels after six weeks of supplementation combined with physical training. In long-distance runners, there was a significant increase in distance covered.
Malic acid is a precursor to citrate, a substance believed to prevent calcium from binding with other substances in urine that form kidney stones. Citrate may also prevent crystals from getting bigger by preventing them from sticking together.
Preliminary laboratory research published in 2014 suggests that malic acid consumption may increase urine pH and citrate levels, thereby decreasing the likelihood of stone formation. The study authors concluded that malic acid supplementation may be useful for the conservative treatment of calcium kidney stones. 3
Due to their high malic acid content, pears were proposed as a potential dietary supplement for reducing stone formation in a 2016 review. This would require a diet low in meat and sodium.
Researchers found that combining malic acid and magnesium helped reduce pain and tenderness in people with fibromyalgia in a small pilot study published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 1995.
Twenty-four people with fibromyalgia were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or a treatment consisting of malic acid and magnesium. Individuals who were given the malic acid and magnesium combination for six months reported significantly less pain and tenderness. Recent studies on malic acid’s efficacy as a treatment for fibromyalgia, however, are scarce.
The use of a one percent oral malic acid spray has been explored as a treatment for dry mouth. A study published in Depression and Anxiety, for instance, evaluated a one percent malic acid spray compared to a placebo in people with dry mouth resulting from antidepressant use. 6 After two weeks of using the sprays when needed, those using the malic acid spray had improved dry mouth symptoms and increased saliva flow rates.
Possible Side Effects
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.
Dosage and Preparation
There is no standard dose of malic acid that is recommended. Various doses have been used with adults in studies to investigate the treatment of different conditions.
For example, for fibromyalgia, a product called Super Malic (malic acid 1200 mg and magnesium hydroxide 300 mg) was taken twice daily for six months.
For acne, a cream containing malic acid and arginine glycolate was applied twice daily for 60 days. And lastly, for dry mouth, a mouth spray containing 1 percent malic acid, 10 percent xylitol, and 0.05 percent fluoride was used up to eight times daily for two weeks.
The appropriate dose for you may depend on how you are using the supplement, your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider for personalised advice.
What to Look For
Malic acid is found naturally in fruits including apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, grapes, peaches, pears, and plums. Malic acid is also found in some citrus fruits.
In food, malic acid may be used to acidify or flavour foods or prevent food discoloration. It may also be used with other ingredients in cosmetics.
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.
If you choose to take a malic acid supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers tips to consumers. The organisation recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients.
Lastly, the organisation suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organisation that provides quality testing. These organisations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organisations does not guarantee the product’s safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What are the richest sources of malic acid?
Certain fruits are the main source of malic acid, which is responsible for the sour notes in those fruits. They include green apples and other types of apples, cranberries, grapes, guava, lingonberries, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, and raspberries. 8
What’s the difference between malic acid and citric acid?
Malic acid is produced by the human body in addition to being a primary component of fruits, especially sour ones. Citric acid is only found in citrus fruits. 9
Can malic acid cause skin damage?
That’s not the case at all. In fact, as an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), it helps exfoliate dead skin cells and reduce the look of fine lines and other signs of ageing when applied in low concentrations. 10