The Benefits and Uses of Malic Acid

Person holding an apple
d3sign/Getty Images

Malic acid is a substance found naturally in apples and pears. 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.

Uses for Malic Acid

When applied to skin, malic acid is said to reduce signs of aging, remove dead skin cells, aid in the treatment of acne, and promote skin hydration.

Malic acid is also used to boost sports performance when taken in supplement form. It is sometimes combined with creatine supplements in order to improve the body's absorption of creatine. Proponents claim that malic acid can promote energy production, increase exercise endurance, and help fight off muscle fatigue.

In addition, consuming malic acid in combination with magnesium is sometimes said to alleviate pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia.

The Skin-Care Benefits of Malic Acid

A number of early studies published in the 1990s and early 2000s indicate that malic acid may be beneficial when applied to 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 skin aging.

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 people with melasma (a common disorder marked by patches of abnormally dark skin) to a skin-care regimen that included the use of topical 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.

The Benefits of Malic Acid Supplements

To date, few studies have tested the health effects of taking malic acid in supplement form. However, there's some evidence that malic acid supplements may offer certain benefits:

Kidney Stones
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.

According to a preliminary laboratory study published in 2014, malic acid consumption may increase urine pH and citrate levels, making stone formation less likely. The study authors concluded that malic acid supplementation may be useful for the conservative treatment of calcium kidney stones.

In a 2016 review, scientists suggested that given the high malic acid content in pears, future research should explore whether a diet supplemented with pears and low in meat and sodium may reduce stone formation.

Physical Performance

For a study published in Acta Physiologica Hungarica in 2015, researchers investigated the effectiveness of a creatine-malate supplement in sprinters and long-distance runners. After six weeks of supplementation combined with physical training, there was a significant increase in the physical performance in sprinters, measured by peak power, total work, body composition, and elevated growth hormone levels. In long-distance runners, there was a significant increase in distance covered.

Dry Mouth

The use of a 1 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 1 percent malic acid spray compared to a placebo in people with dry mouth resulting from antidepressant use. 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.


Apilot 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 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, there's a lack of more recent research on malic acid's effectiveness as a fibromyalgia treatment.

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.

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. 

The Bottom Line

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.

Malic acid is found in fruits and vegetables and is produced naturally in the body when carbohydrates are converted into energy. While some research suggests that malic acid supplements may help people with certain conditions, 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. 

Was this page helpful?