What Is Malic Acid?

Apples, pears, and malic acid supplements

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Malic acid is a substance found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, including apples and carrots. It is an alpha-hydroxy acid, a class of natural acids commonly used in topical skin-care products.

Aside from adding tartness to foods and beverages, malic acid has been researched for a variety of health uses. Malate, the ionized form of malic acid, plays a small role in the Krebs Cycle, the primary way our bodies generate energy.

This article will discuss malic acid's researched uses, precautions, interactions, and dosages.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. 

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and to check in about any potential interactions with other supplements or medications

Supplement Facts


●     Active Ingredient(s): Malic acid

●     Alternate Name(s): DL-malic acid, 2-Hydroxybutanedioic acid, 2-Hydroxysuccinic acid

●     Legal Status: Legal in the US, sold over-the-counter

●     Suggested Dose: No standard dose for malic acid exists. Dosage will depend on the condition being treated and other factors.

●     Safety Considerations: Using oral malic acid may cause nausea, headache, dizziness, and diarrhea, while topical malic acid may cause redness, itching, and other issues.

Uses of Malic Acid

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietician, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent a disease.

While some research suggests that oral and topical malic acid may help with certain health conditions, high-quality clinical trials are still needed to confirm these claims.

What follows is a look at some of the purported uses of malic acid and various levels of scientific evidence.

Skincare

Malic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid, which is said to be a natural exfoliator. It may be used to smooth wrinkles and fine lines, improve skin texture, cleanse pores, and improve overall skin. Because of this, malic acid has been used in various skincare products.

A small study published in 2013 found malic acid to be beneficial in the treatment of melasma, a common disorder marked by patches of abnormally dark skin. For the study, researchers assigned people with melasma to a skin-care regimen that included malic acid, along with vitamin C. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that using malic acid as a regular part of a skincare regimen could help improve the appearance of melasma.

It should be pointed out that this study used a combination of malic acid and vitamin C. This means that even though the researchers concluded that malic acid was a beneficial component of the study, there is no way to know if the results were because of the malic acid alone, the vitamin C alone, or a combination of both.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are painful and can affect many people. Malic acid has been researched for its potential role in preventing and treating kidney stones.

In one preliminary study set in a lab, malic acid was found to increase urine pH levels, making kidney stone formation less likely. The researchers concluded that malic acid supplementation might help treat calcium kidney stones.

A 2016 review on the importance of a healthy diet to prevent kidney stones suggested pears could be a potential treatment option. Per the review, the malic acid in pears may be used to prevent the formation of kidney stones. This is because malic acid is a precursor for citrate, a compound that inhibits crystal growth in the kidneys.

Fibromyalgia

A pilot study from 1995 found that taking malic acid in combination with magnesium helped alleviate pain and tenderness in people with fibromyalgia.

In the small study, researchers assigned 24 people with fibromyalgia 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. 

However, because a combination of magnesium and malic acid was used in the study, we do not know which was responsible for the positive results. There remains a lack of more recent research on malic acid's effectiveness as a fibromyalgia treatment.

Dry Mouth

The use of a 1% oral malic acid spray has been explored as a treatment for dry mouth.

One study evaluated people with dry mouth caused by antidepressants. Participants were randomized to receive either a 1% malic acid spray or a placebo. After two weeks of using the sprays as needed, those using the malic acid spray had improved dry mouth symptoms and increased rates of saliva flow.

Similar results were seen in a different study looking at malic acid for dry mouth caused by blood pressure medications. At the end of this two-week study, participants who used the 1% malic acid spray had less dry mouth and more saliva compared with the placebo group.

What Are the Side Effects of Malic Acid?

Your healthcare provider may recommend the use of oral or topical malic acid in some instances. Although malic acid is generally regarded as safe, some people experience side effects when using it.

Common Side Effects

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of malic acid supplements. We do not have solid evidence and documentation of side effects associated with taking oral malic acid supplements. However, we know more about topical malic acid's possible side effects.

Common side effects associated with topical malic acid and other alpha hydroxy acids include:

Typically, these and other side effects will heal once you no longer use malic acid.

You may consider doing a patch test, which involves applying malic acid to a small area of your skin before deciding to use it regularly. It's also advised to wear sunscreen when using malic acid to prevent the risk of sunburn.

Severe Side Effects

There are no documented severe side effects of malic acid. However, this does not mean that severe side effects are not possible. For best practice, use malic acid exactly as directed and do not use more than the recommended dose.

Let your healthcare provider know if you experience any side effects after taking malic acid.

Apples and pears

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Precautions

In 2022, an expert panel reviewed malic acid and found it safe to use in cosmetics. Besides a few side effects, malic acid supplements are not known to cause any other safety concerns. However, there is insufficient information to ensure its safety in certain groups.

For example, we do not have enough evidence to know whether malic acid is safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding. Because of this, it's best to be extra cautious and avoid using malic acid supplements during pregnancy or lactation.

There is also little evidence regarding the use of malic acid in children. Consult with your child's healthcare provider for professional advice.

The malic acid in amounts found in food is generally safe for everyone. Malic acid has also been deemed safe as a food additive, flavor enhancer, and pH controller. Keep in mind that malic acid supplements should not substitute standard care. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying medical care may have serious consequences.

Dosage: How Much Malic Acid Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage is appropriate for your individual needs.

Due to a lack of research, there is no standard dose for malic acid. Various amounts have been used in the studies we do have.

For example, an old fibromyalgia study used a product called Super Malic, which contained 1200 milligrams of malic acid as well as 300 milligrams of magnesium hydroxide. This was taken twice daily for six months with positive results (although we do not know if the results were due to the malic acid or the magnesium).

Various studies looking at malic acid for dry mouth used a spray solution that contained 1% malic acid.

The appropriate dose for you may depend on why you are using malic acid and other factors like your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider for personalized dosage advice.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Malic Acid?

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that you can overdose on malic acid. Malic acid is also not thought to be toxic.

However, the research on malic acid is limited, and we do not have studies looking at its long-term use. We also do not have standard dosage information for malic acid.

An old report from 2001 points out that malic acid had been considered to be nontoxic up until that point. Still, it's important to use malic acid exactly as directed to prevent any potential issues.

Interactions

There is no solid evidence regarding interactions with malic acid. Medication, supplement, and food interactions with malic acid have not been reported or well-documented.

Regardless, interactions may still be possible. Therefore, it is vital that you carefully read the ingredient list as well as the nutrition facts panel of malic acid supplements and topical treatments.

You should review any new supplements with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, supplements, or medications you take.

How to Store Malic Acid

Store malic acid supplements in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated space in your home. Be sure to keep supplements in the container in which they were purchased. Topical malic acid should be stored similarly.

Discard malic acid supplements and treatments according to the expiration date listed on the packaging. Keep these and other supplements out of reach of any children or pets in your home.

Similar Supplements

Other supplements on the market may work similarly to malic acid.

Supplements that are similar to malic acid include:

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C serum has been found to improve skin pigmentation and melasma. Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant and may improve skin pigmentation by disrupting the process of dark spot creation.
  • Magnesium: Like malic acid, magnesium has been researched for its potential role in preventing kidney stones. Although the evidence is somewhat mixed, magnesium may reduce some types of kidney stones by inhibiting calcium oxalate crystallization. It has also been suggested that a magnesium deficiency may be a risk factor for kidney stones.
  • Capsaicin: An active ingredient in chili peppers, capsaicin may be beneficial in the treatment of fibromyalgia. In one study, a topical treatment containing 0.075% capsaicin was found to provide short-term improvements in fibromyalgia symptoms, like fatigue and pain.
  • Ginseng: Korean Red Ginseng, also known as Panax Ginseng, may be helpful in treating dry mouth. One study reported improved dry mouth symptoms in women, but not men, after taking 6 grams of Korean Red Ginseng for eight weeks. It should be noted that the women in the study with the most success were postmenopausal.

Ask your healthcare provider before taking more than one supplement for the same use. It's typically recommended not to mix supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the richest sources of malic acid?

    Malic acid can be found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. It is also used in some juices, soft drinks, jams, wines, and candies for tartness.

    Good sources of malic acid include apples, cherries, strawberries, papayas, pineapples, oranges, grapes, apricots, mangoes, plums, tomatoes, carrots, olives, peas, potatoes, and corn.

  • What is the difference between malic acid and citric acid?

    Malic acid and citric acid are both alpha hydroxy acids that are used in foods for various reasons. The two are also both tart, but malic acid is said to be more tart than citric acid. Malic acid is also thought to add more acidity to foods and other products.

  • Is malic acid harmful to skin?

    Malic acid is generally recognized as safe as a treatment for certain skin conditions.

    Like other alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), malic acid may help exfoliate dead skin cells and improve the appearance of fine lines and other signs of aging. However, it may cause some side effects to the skin like rash, itching, irritation, and chemical burn.

Sources of Malic Acid & What to Look For

As with most nutrients, you can get plenty of malic acid through your diet.

The best way to get malic acid is through food. However, your healthcare provider may suggest the use of oral or topical malic acid for various reasons.

Food Sources of Malic Acid

Malic acid is found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. It may also be added to foods and beverages to add acidify or flavor, or as a preservative.

Food sources of malic acid include:

Malic Acid Supplements

Malic acid supplements are available in a few forms. You can find malic acid in capsules, tablets, crystals, or powder. Malic acid is also available as a topical cream. Most malic acid supplements are vegan, but some in capsule form may contain gelatin from cows or pigs.

Some malic acid supplements may have a seal of approval from a third-party organization like U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, or NSF International. These organizations provide quality testing and ensure that ingredient lists and nutrition labels are accurate.

Summary

Malic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid found in various fruits and vegetables. It may be used in supplement or topical form for skincare or health issues, including dry mouth, fibromyalgia, and kidney stones. Certain people should take precautions when using malic acid, but it is generally considered safe.

If you're considering taking malic acid supplements, dosage forms may come in oral or topical dosage forms. However, before starting any new supplement products, you should always speak with your healthcare provider first.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Lubeck, RD
Brittany Lubeck, RD, is a nutrition writer and registered dietitian with a master's degree in clinical nutrition. 

Originally written by
Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

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