Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs), and the newcomer's Lipo Hydroxy Acids (LHA) and Poly Hydroxy Acids (PHA). Why are these ingredients so *hot*? Do they really work for all skin types as skin rejuvenating and glowing miracle actives? And most importantly, how to use the correct Hydroxy Acid for your skin?
Let’s try to understand more.
1) What are Hydroxy acids, aka AHAs?
They are exfoliants that have the ability to dissolve dead cells that constitute the outermost layer of the skin. As a result, new cells surface revealing fresher, refined skin that appears much smoother, more hydrated, and supple.
They can be synthetic but also naturally derived from milk, sugarcane, fruits, plants…
2) Which type of skincare contains Hydroxy acids?
Pretty much every skincare product can be formulated with Hydroxy acids: leave-on products like creams, serums… and rinse-off products like exfoliants, cleansers…
3) Exfoliants but …no actual peeling effect?
Yes, although you won’t actually see your skin physically exfoliating, you can see it smoother, younger-looking hiding beneath because Hydroxy acids literally dissolve dead cells.
4) Are they safe to use?
Used correctly, they can provide truly visible results. However, if you chose a product with the wrong Hydroxy acid for your skin type, you can cause irritation and in some cases, a very unpleasant allergic reaction.
PH – Hydroxy acid has a low pH, between 3-4 (except for PHA, active at pH 5.5) to be able to effectively exfoliate the skin. If you have sensitive skin, low pH may not be good for you.
Concentration – Hydroxy acid concentration is very important. Safe cosmetic products have a maximum concentration of to 8-10%; anything higher than that must be handled by dermatologists or trained aestheticians/therapists.
5) What shall I choose for my skin: AHA, BHA, PHA, or LHA?
The most common AHAs used in cosmetics are Glycolic acid and Lactic acid. They are recommended for normal to dry skin and they are active against surface wrinkles, skin pigmentation due to sun damage (dark spots, etc…), and collagen generation. Glycolic acid’s molecule is smaller than Lactic acid’s, therefore it can penetrate deeper into the skin. Glycolic acid promotes collagen regeneration, reduces fine lines, addresses sun damage, and inhibits melanin formation. But it can increase photosensitivity so always use sunscreen after application. If you have sensitive skin, skip Glycolic acid and opt for milder Lactic acid, with similar properties but just a bit slower because its molecule is bigger and takes longer to penetrate the skin.
- citric acid (from citrus fruits)
- glycolic acid (from sugar cane)
- hydroxy caproic acid (from royal jelly)
- lactic acid (from lactose)
- malic acid (from fruits)
- mandelic acid (from bitter almonds)
- tartaric acid (from grapes)
We use 100% natural AHAs derived from bilberry, sugar cane, sugar maple, orange, and lemon.
Beta Hydroxy/ Salicylic acid is the most common BHA. They are recommended for normal to oily skin prone to bumps, clogs, blemishes, and enlarged pores. BHA is used to treat oily skin, acne, black, and whiteheads. It is a good anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredient so suitable for irritated and blemished skin.
AHAs and BHAs are similar because they unglue the bonds holding dull, dead skin on the surface. AHA works on the skin’s surface and is water-soluble; BHA works on the skin’s surface and inside the pore; it’s oil soluble.
Poly Hydroxy Acids (PHA) is similar to AHA but more hydrating, and way less irritating and more soothing, even for irritations caused by acne. It is recommended for normal to acne-prone skin and considered a more gentle version of Glycolic acid with the added value of helping healing lesions due to acne.
The main PHA used in cosmetics is Gluconolactone, a rising star ingredient in skincare. Natural Gluconolactone is derived from Palm and Coconut.
Lipo Hydroxy Acids (LHA), is similar to BHA but more lipophilic, therefore with reduced penetration. This and the fact that it is active at pH 5.5, (the same pH of skin), making it more gentle and less irritating. LHA is preferred with clogged pores, acne, and when the skin is very sensitive. It is also suggested for skin conditions as rosacea and rosacea acne.
6) Can Hydroxy acids be combined?
If you are not a sensitive skin type, yes, they can be combined, as they can be actually complimentary. The best way to know is to experiment as you know your skin best. Do not mix products but apply one at a time.
For instance, BHA can be used to exfoliate oily areas and AHA dry areas. Or when you have a flare-up of rosacea acne you can combine BHA with LHA.