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Hydroxy Acids – Which One Is For You?

Hi all,

This week we are zeroing in on the trio of hydroxy acids – (Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) and Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs). These acids are a class of chemical compounds (naturally and synthetically derived) with a powerful ability to exfoliate our skin to reveal fresh, smoother and more even toned complexion.

Although all three are super exfoliants and deliver similar benefits, you DO need to pick a lane when it comes to these three powerful acids in order to reap the benefits based on your own skin care needs and to avoid unnecessary redness and irritation.

What Are AHAs, BHAs and PHAs?

Nowadays when you purchase most skin care products you will notice in the ingredients AHA, BHA or PHA. What do these acronyms mean and why should you care? I am certainly no chemist and won’t pretend to speak to the molecular structure of these acids, however I will share the fundamental characteristics and benefits of each one to help you decide which one is right for you.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

What Are They?

The most popular of the hydroxy acids, Alpha Hydroxy Acid is a water-soluble acid and can be sourced naturally in fruits, milk and sugarcane. AHAs are water-soluble so they only work on your skin’s surface.

Some common types of AHAs include:

  • citric acid (from oranges, lemons)
  • glycolic acid (from sugar cane)
  • hydroxycaproic acid (from royal jelly)
  • hydroxycaprylic acid (from animals)
  • lactic acid (from milk)
  • malic acid (from apples)
  • tartaric acid (from grapes)
  • pyruciv acid (from papayas)

How Do They Work?

AHAs cause exfoliation of the surface skin to remove dead skin skills and to help stimulate the building of collagen. The extent of exfoliation depends on the type and concentration of the AHA, its pH, and other ingredients in the product. According to the FDA, in order to help prevent irritation, look for AHA products that contain a concentration of less than 10 percent.

Products Using AHAs

  • Professional peels
  • Cleansers
  • Toners
  • Masks
  • Serums
  • Moisturizers

Who Should Use Them?

If you have normal skin, mature skin, dry skin, dark spots, uneven skin tone or sun damaged skin.

If your main goal is to reduce deeper wrinkles, look for products with glycolic acid or lactic acid and professional glycolic peels may also be a good option for you but don’t overdo the frequency of these and watch for the level of concentration used.

Benefits of Using AHAs

Through the exfoliation process, the outermost layer of your skin is removed to reveal fresh, new skin. This process helps:

  • increase product penetration (e.g. serums and retinoids)
  • promote collagen and blood flow
  • correct hyper pigmentation and scars
  • improve appearance of surface lines and wrinkles
  • prevent acne breakouts
  • brighten your complexion

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

What Are They?

Beta hydroxy acids or BHAs are oil soluble acids and work both on the skin’s surface AND deep inside the pore. BHAs travel deeper into the pore than AHAs and are drawn to oil in the skin. The primary acid in this group is salicylic acid which is an acne fighting ingredient and can also be found in aspirin.

Some common types of BHAs include:

  • glycolic acid
  • malic acid
  • lactic acid
  • citric acid

How Do They Work?

BHAs work hard to exfoliate the skin by navigating their way into blocked pores, dissolving oil and dead skin skills. 

Although BHAs may be just as effective as AHAs for acne, texture improvements, and sun-related discoloration, you will want to choose a BHA if you tend to have sensitive skin or easily irritated skin.

Products Using BHAs

  • Acne fighting products
  • Cleansers
  • Toners
  • Masks
  • Serums
  • Moisturizers
  • Professional peels

Who Should Use Them?

If you have sensitive skin, oily skin, acne prone skin, bumpy skin due to keratosis pilaris.

Benefits of Using BHAs

Through the exfoliation process, the outermost layer of your skin is removed to reveal fresh, new skin. This process helps:

  • prevent acne breakouts
  • clears blackheads and whiteheads
  • increase product penetration (e.g. serums and retinoids)
  • promote collagen and blood flow
  • correct hyper pigmentation and scars
  • improve appearance of surface lines and wrinkles 

Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs)

What Are They?

Polyhydroxy acids or PHAs are second generation alpha hydroxy acids that provide a milder exfoliation on the surface of your skin and don’t  disturb the deeper delicate layers. A positive about PHAs is that sun sensitivity is not an issue, unlike AHAs and BHAs.

Some common types of PHAs include:

  • gluconolactone
  • galactose
  • lactobionic acid

How Do They Work?

PHAs work exclusively on the epidermis (top layer of skin) due to their much larger molecular structure. They exfoliate, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits and also act as a humectant which allows them to attract and retain moisture to the skin.Epidermis

PHAs also fight glycation, a process that takes place when digested sugar permanently attaches to the collagen in your skin and can weaken it, along with elastin levels.

Products Using PHAs

  • Toners
  • Masks
  • Serums
  • Moisturizers

Who Should Use Them?

People with dry skin, itchy skin, sensitive skin, and those that suffer from atopic rosacea and eczema.

Benefits of Using PHAs

  • surface-level exfoliation that is gentle but effective
  • attracts and retains moisture to skin
  • can be combined with other retinoids

In SummaryChecklist

When purchasing your next round of skin care products, pay attention to the hydroxy acids contained within and select the one that addresses your skin care checklist to ensure it delivers the needed benefits. To recap:

AHAs – (for dry, aging skin) works on the surface of your skin and is primarily great for:

  • exfoliation
  • reducing fine lines and wrinkles
  • reducing hyper pigmentation

BHAs – (for acne prone, sensitive skin) works deeper in the pores and is primarily great for:

  • fighting acne and blackheads
  • fighting keratosis pilaris

PHAs – (for extremely sensitive skin) works on the surface of your skin and is primarily great for:

  • gentle exfoliation with minimal irritation
  • improving hydration
  • reducing hyper pigmentation
  • compatible with dry, itchy skin conditions such as eczema and atopic rosacea

Remember that any time you introduce a new product to your skin, (especially with acids), make sure your skin has managed to build up a tolerance for it and resist using it everyday the moment you purchased it.

Now go and exfoliate that beautiful face of yours!

Nancy

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