Have you ever used Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) in your skin care regimen? Maybe you have had an experience when your dermatologist prescribed you a skin care product containing glycolic acid or salicylic acid? No matter what your experience has been with the skin care products, having an “acid” as one of their ingredients can be scary. But cast your fears aside. Better yet, let’s learn more about different types of acids and what they do for our body and on our skin.
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When you want to improve your skin texture, you need to keep in mind a few facts.
Skin is made of cells that can pile up on the surface if not removed. Using harsh face scrubs can make tiny wounds in the skin surface and create unnecessary scarring. Today, you can have access to a much efficient solution for dead skin removal – a natural chemical peeling done with the help of all-natural hydroxy acids: Alpha-Hydroxy Acids, Beta-Hydroxy Acids, and Polyhydroxy Acids.
Using an alpha-hydroxy acid in skin care products has an exfoliating effect on the skin.
The acid loosens the bonds that hold the dirt, dead cells and any microorganisms together on the surface of the skin. Getting rid of dead skin opens up the surface for new cellular development, making skin more receptive of other nutrients, sometimes called actives, in the skin care you use.
Types of Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
There are several types of Alpha Hydroxy Acids you need to know about. Sometimes, Alpha Hydroxy Acids are called fruit acids as they are found in fruit and vegetables. Here’s a list of AHAs you need to be aware of.
– Glycolic (from sugar cane)
– Lactic (from corn sugars and dairy)
– Mandelic (from bitter almonds)
– Citric acid (from citrus fruits)
– Malic acid (from various berries and pitted fruits), and
– Tartaric acid (from grapes)
“These are water-soluble acids that digest corneocyts (dead skin cells) from the outer stratus corneum layers of skin, encouraging the generation of fresh skin, through exfoliation, leaving a smooth complexion, – says Soraya Ali, cosmetic chemist.
“They are often employed in professional-strength peels, which we wholesale to licensed professionals only, and in lower concentrations for retail washes, gommages, toners, and masques.”
Though there are so many types of acids, the most clinical research was done around glycolic, lactic, mandelic and salicylic acids. It can explain why these acids are often used in skin care product formulation, hence more familiar to us.
The lowest pH of AHAs allowed in consumer products by law in the USA is 3.5.
Let’s dive into each one of them and ear mark their benefits for our skin and skin conditions they can address.
Here are the Alpha Hydroxy Acids, their sources, benefits and skin care products formulated with them.
Glycolic Acid Benefits for Your Skin
Sugar cane is used as a source for the plant-based glycolic acid. It is one of the quicker absorbed acids due to its small molecule size. This acid penetrates the skin reaching its dermis, the layer of the skin following the outer, epidermis, layer.
In fact, many dermatologists prefer the product formulations with glycolic acid as it delivers desirable effects for the skin’s texture. The products with glycolic acid help to reduce wrinkles and fine lines, protect from the sun damage by exfoliating the layer with dead skin cells.
Due to its swift penetration into the skin, this acid can be more irritating to some women. But women with dry skin may benefit even more. Why? Glycolic acid increases Hyaluronic acid levels. Both acids are known to attract and maintain moisture in the skin, making it plumper and more youthful looking.
Check out my detailed post on hyaluronic acid benefits for women. Why you may need it or not.
Why You Want to Include Lactic Acid Into Your Skin Care Routine
Who hasn’t heard of Cleopatra stories and her unique, and sometimes outrageous, skin care routines! One of her favorites was taking baths. To be precise, she favored her sour donkey milk baths. And sour milk is naturally rich in lactic acid.
The lactic acid baths gently exfoliated Cleopatra’s skin, improving the skin protective properties against outside pathogens. You, too, can follow Cleopatra’s skin care secret and include skin care products with lactic acid and even home-made masks and cleansers to improve your skin’s barrier function and resistance to dryness and flakiness.
Again, lactic acid is very much suitable for the women with sensitive skin, as the acid molecule is larger than the one in glycolic acid.
The usage of lactic acid with higher concentration showed improvement in the skin’s firmness and smoothness.
Here’s the quote from one of the studies.
Treatment with 12% lactic acid resulted in increased epidermal and dermal firmness and thickness and clinical improvement in skin smoothness and in the appearance of lines and wrinkles.
The results demonstrate that cosmetic benefits from the use of alpha-hydroxy acids are caused by modification of the skin surface, the epidermis and the dermis. Although 5% lactic acid modulates surface and epidermal changes, 12% lactic acid influences both the epidermis and the dermis.
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Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic by REN Clean Skincare
This refreshing tonic contains Lactic Acid as one of the ingredients which helps to refine skin texture, keep fine lines at bay and use it right after washing your face and neck. You can buy it HERE.
Mandelic Acid Benefits for Skin
Both mandelic and lactic acids are built with larger molecules than glycolic acid. It means that they have a lesser and slower rate of skin penetration. Hence, they are less abrasive and less irritating to the skin. Women with sensitive skin can benefit from using a product containing these acids.
Alpha-hydroxy acids allow the skin to look brighter and younger by reducing fine lines. Hyperpigmentation like sun spots, melasma, mild acne scars can improve as well with the use of skin care products containing AHAs. Again, if you have any skin concerns, talk to your dermatologist.
Because of its antimicrobial properties, mandelic acid can be successfully used on acne-prone skin type.
Check out this post on how to smooth out skin with microneedling from the convenience of your home. Skin with acne or dark spots can benefit in a big way.
Some clinical studies tested mandelic acid on its effects on skin’s elasticity and skin’s photographic appearance. In this study, skin firmness increased 23.8% and elasticity of the lower eye lid increased 25.4%. These stunning results were possible only after 4 weeks of topical application of mandelic acid complex to the skin.
Without doubt, these results could be beneficial to the skin of anybody who wishes to maintain its firmness and elasticity.
Malic Acid And Azelaic Acid in One Exfoliating Cleanser
Some of alpha hydroxy acid skin benefits can be boosted by ingredients like Azelaic acid from rye seeds. Take advantage of the natural cocktail of AHAs, Azelaic acid and Manuka Honey in one formulation. Elina Organics has the best all-natural, organic ingredients in one jar. Cranberry Rose Skin Refiner can easily become your go-to product to reap alpha hydroxy acid skin benefits. Check all products for Elina Organics HERE.
Alpha-Hydroxy Acid Benefits for the Skin
Adding a variety of skin care products into your skin regimen can be a powerful and refreshing thing to do. But you need to base your skin care decision-making on the knowledge about different skin ingredients.
Your ability to help and/or support your skin health comes from your personal involvement and knowledge about the subject. Without doubt, when you have a serious skin condition and to avoid adverse reactions, do refer to a skin specialist, the dermatologist.
Here are the alpha-hydroxy acid benefits your skin could take advantage of.
– Addresses different forms of hyperpigmentation or skin discoloration: sun spots, acne scars, melasma
– Improves skin’s ability to regenerate by smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles
– Contributes to an overall brighter skin condition
Safety Tips to Remember When Using Alpha Hydroxy Acid Skin Products
Always educate yourself on the skin care active ingredients and skin care products with any new ingredient prior to their use to avoid any side effects. The more you know, the safer and more effective your skin care regimen will become.
Like with a retinol product, do begin with lower concentrations of the acid in the product. Once your skin adapts to the lower level, up the concentration in the next skin care product round.
It is a good idea to ask your dermatologist about possible interaction of ingredients within different skin products to avoid unnecessary skin irritation.
However, AHA products do work well with Vitamin C, as they have approximately the same pH level.
Elina Organics Alpha Hydroxy Exfoliator and Cleanser
Mandelic acid and Citric acid, both Alpha Hydroxy Acids, have a powerful experience when you cleanse and boost your skin’s surface with formulations like this cleanser by Elina Organics. This plant-based skin refiner contains an abundance of antioxidants, vitamin C and B, and beta-keratin (precursor of Retinol) to nourish your skin and reduce fine lines.
Discover skin benefits of powdered vitamin C you can reap in this post.
For example, retinol products combined with alpha hydroxy acid products can create red skin and irritation, especially in sensitive skin types women. It’s like using a double hammer on your skin if you combine different types of chemical exfoliants in one session. So, do keep this in mind.
Learn about yet another unique class of skin care ingredients and discover the anti-aging retinoid therapy any woman could benefit from.
When you include AHAs in your skin care routine, do wear a sunscreen to avoid damage from sun exposure and development of age spots. Find the reef- and skin-friendly sunscreens HERE.
Adding a good quality moisturizer that calms and feeds your skin after the use of an AHA skin product will support new skin growth.
AHA Products for Your Skin Care Routine
I choose the products that are non-toxic to our overall well-being. Such skin care products are formulated with clean ingredients. Remember that skin care ingredients, especially toxic ones, tend to collect in our tissues throughout life. If and when they reach a critical mass, their toxicity can trigger unwelcome health conditions.
Sometimes, when I read the ingredients, I am amazed how good they are, until I reach an ingredient that spoils it all. One of such cases is a preservative used in cosmetic products under the name “phenoxyethanol.” But there were many reports when people developed allergic reaction: hives or anaphylaxis. I pass these products, as today, there are natural preservatives that make the use of skin care products and cosmetics safe and beautiful.
Also, keep in mind that products with the best, cleanest ingredients can cause skin irritation.
Exuviance Performance Peel AP²5
This is a powerful peel containing glycolic acid. Begin with one application a week, then work up to twice a week. You can buy this toner HERE.
Monoi Age Corrective Exfoliating Cleanser
One of my favorite AHAs is Lactic Acid. Gentle enough to exfoliate and boost cellular renewal in the skin. I also like it for evening my sun-kissed face skin tone and lowering the pronounced sun spots. In fact, lactic acid is great way to calm internal inflammation in the skin.
In this Eminence Monoi Age Corrective Exfoliating Cleanser, you will find a beautiful ensemble of alpha-hydroxy acids. You can get your own bottle of this effective skin cleanser HERE.
Head over to this post if you want to avoid damaging face washing mistakes.
With truly deliciously aromatic extracts from lemon, passion fruit, grape and pineapple, you can enjoy skin care washing routine every single day. You are on the way for best results in improving your skin tone by revealing new skin cells on the surface of your face. The fruit extracts remove dirt and oil from the face naturally, and without any toxins.
Check out effective all-natural alpha hydroxy skin care products that remove dead skin cells and leave your skin refreshed.
Mangosteen Daily Resurfacing Concentrate
This serum with anti-inflammatory properties minimizes the appearance of pores and gently exfoliates for a smoother complexion. You need just a pea-size drop of this concentrate rich in lactic acid complex to see improvement in your skin’s surface. It’s a truly “magical” natural chemical exfoliation ever. Check out and buy this skin care product HERE.
Homemade Facial Masks Using Alpha Hydroxy Acid Benefits
Want to be more creative? With the least of efforts, you can definitely can make a facial mask or chemical peels out of fresh blackberries or yogurt or grapes. No mixing bowls. No toxic chemicals. Just use the flesh of fresh fruit and fermented milk products on your face, neck and decollete.
Your young or mature skin will say thank-you for the homemade beauty products you concoct right there, in your own kitchen. The alpha hydroxy acid skin benefits become a reality for you personally in a very vivid, palpable way.
Check out this post with many facial masks with manuka honey which is a huge anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, thus clearing ingredient. Manuka honey reduces redness in your skin, heals congested skin and eczema.
What is Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA)?
If alpha-hydroxy acid is known for its deep penetration of the skin layers and exfoliating effect, then beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) does the removal of dead skin cells as well, however with a much milder effect. Thus, BHA is more welcome by women with skin’s sensitivity.
Though a chemical structure of beta-hydroxy acid is similar to alpha-hydroxy acid, there are some differences. Beta-hydroxy acid is oil-soluble, while alpha-hydroxy acid is water-soluble. For you, it means that BHA can go inside the pores and affect a rate of oil secretion by your oil glands.
In fact, people with acne, pimples and overreacting oil-glands could take advantage of the skin care products containing BHAs to decrease production of oil.
In skin care formulations, only one beta-hydroxy acid is used. It is salicylic acid which is sourced from willow tree bark, sweet birch bark or wintergreen leaves.
Benefits of Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHA)
With regular use of BHA skin care products, oil secretion decreases, hence skin condition improves, as the beta-hydroxy acid sloughs off dead skin and removes excess oil from the skin surface.
Here are the key benefits of beta hydroxy acid.
– Decreases oil secretion
– Calms down internal skin inflammation
– Unclogs pores to fight acne
BHA Products for Your Skin Care Routine
Adding beta hydroxy acid (BHA) skin care formulations to your skin care regimen can improve your skin texture by working on hyperpigmentation areas like age spots, sun spots and even melasma. BHA formulas are also great for a daily maintenance if you have concerns about fine lines.
SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense
This unique product addresses several issues. It is “an advanced solution to help eliminate adult acne while addressing wrinkles, fine lines and uneven skin tone. A combination of 2% dioic acid with alpha and beta hydroxy acids prevent blemishes while diminishing hyperpigmentation and reducing wrinkles and fine lines. This targeted treatment also inhibits excess of sebum production, unclogs pores and helps prevent skin darkening from UV exposure.”
What Are Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs)?
Now that you are versatile in Alpha Hydroxy and Beta Hydroxy Acids, you can take onboard one more acid group – Polyhydroxy Acid. It includes the following acids:
– Gluconolactone acid, and
– Galactose acid
The main difference between polyhydroxy acids and alpha hydroxy acids is the bigger size of the molecule of the former and their potent antioxidant properties. Polyhydroxy acids, like the acids within a beta hydroxy group, are perfect for the women with sensitive skin. Per dermatologist’s review, these acids are safe and effective in skin care for those with rosacea and atopic dermatitis. Again, any skin condition and skin care options need to be discussed with a professional – please take this onboard!
PHA Skin Products
Here are some examples of quality, non-toxic, with clean ingredients skin care products that offer the formulations with polyhydroxy acids.
NeoStrata Bionic Face Serum with 10% Lactobionic Acid
This potent antioxidant serum protects collagen production and promotes firmness without irritating the skin. Together with pro-vitamins A, C and E, this lightweight formula provides intense moisturization while reducing the appearance of fine lines, pore size and hyperpigmentation. You can buy it HERE.
In summary, “by using AHAs and/or BHAs daily, you are encouraging old, damaged skin cells to fall off and your skin will go into repair mode and work to replace those old, damaged cells with new, fresh cells and strengthening proteins to support those cells.”
“This low level daily exfoliation provides wonderful results to the skin, making it smooth, bright and firm. I recommend using toners, serums, or masks with AHAs or BHAs. Cleansers and moisturizers need to contain non-active, gentle ingredients to balance your skincare routine properly,” – says Erica Suppa, an expert skin care esthetician in Historic New Castle, Delaware.
These links will help you to explore alpha hydroxy acid skin benefits on a deeper level if you desire to know more about it.
Citric acid increases viable epidermal thickness and glycosaminoglycan content of sun-damaged skin. Bernstein EF, Underhill CB, Lakkakorpi J, Ditre CM, Uitto J, Yu RJ, Scott EV. Dermatol Surg. 1997 Aug;23(8):689-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.1997.tb00391.x. PMID: 9256916
Evaluation of the in vivo cosmetic efficacy of the MF3 blue cell serum gel. One- and two-month test results. Tulina D, Béguin A, Pong H, Cabarbas MDM, Klokol D, Chan MKS, Wong MBF. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2018 Apr;17(2):193-202. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12363. Epub 2017 Jun 22. PMID: 28639749
Multi-Center, Double-Blind, Vehicle-Controlled Clinical Trial of an Alpha and Beta Defensin-Containing Anti-Aging Skin Care Regimen With Clinical, Histopathologic, Immunohistochemical, Photographic, and Ultrasound Evaluation. Taub A, Bucay V, Keller G, Williams J, Mehregan D. J Drugs Dermatol. 2018 Apr 1;17(4):426-441. PMID: 29601620 Clinical Trial.