When you’re in pursuit of truly glowing skin – smoother, younger-looking, and even-toned – you may have come across skin acids, alpha hydroxy acid or AHA, to be precise. Here is everything you need to know about AHAs: what AHAs are, what types of AHAs are there, and how they benefit the skin, and finally, tips on how to use AHAs safely.
What are AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids?
Alpha hydroxy acids are chemical surface skin exfoliators that may come from natural or human-made ingredients.
Even though they are termed ‘chemical’ exfoliators, you don’t have to shun them if you’re into natural skincare. While the word ‘acid’ is used, it doesn’t stand for dangerous industrial acids like hydrofluoric acid or nitric acid. Exfoliating chemically means peeling with the use of acids or enzymes, as opposed to physical abrasive exfoliants, like salt, sugar, or microbeads. There are AHAs that are naturally-derived from plants and fruits.
What AHAs do for your skin?
AHAs are surface-skin exfoliators. Skin cells don’t always shed when they die. Some of them stick together and hang around on the skin’s surface, making the skin dry and wrinkly and serves as a barrier, preventing skincare products from performing their full potential. AHA dissolves the calcium ions, the adhesive that is holding the dead skin cells in place, instead of shedding. Essentially allowing the dead skin cells to gently peel off. Fresh skin cells are then able to emerge and breathe, resulting in a brighter, smoother, and more even-toned.
Regular exfoliation, whether through physical or chemical exfoliants, exhibit these benefits:
⦁ Brighter, more radiant skin ⦁ Clean pores, clearer skin ⦁ Even-toned complexion, less patchiness ⦁ Smoother, softer skin, ⦁ Fading skin discoloration ⦁ Increase skincare product absorption
As if those aren’t amazing already, there are more benefits of AHAs for your skin.
⦁ Better choice for inflamed skin
Chemical exfoliation, such as AHA treatments, is a better choice for people with acne, redness, and inflammation or those with sensitive skin. There are no manual or physical scrubbing that may aggravate existing acne or irritation.
⦁ Increase collagen production
As the Alpha Hydroxy Acid penetrates the skin, encouraging cell turnover, AHAs may also increase collagen production. Resulting in a faster healing and regeneration rate and reduction of surface skin’s fine lines and wrinkles.
⦁ Increased hydration
AHAs may increase hyaluronic acid expression, which in turn boosts the plumpness and hydration levels of the skin. AHAs like glycolic acid and themselves humectants, which means they attract moisture from the environment.
Depending on which AHA is used, AHA may provide antioxidant benefits to your skin. Citric acid and malic acid, for example, can boost the skin’s free-radical fighting ability and repair.
Types of AHAs
As mentioned above, AHAs come in naturally-derived and synthetic. Check to see if your skincare product’s AHA is naturally-derived if you want only products as close to natural as possible. Also, it is worth noting that it is better to use multiple lower concentration AHAs than using one just type in higher strength. Here are the five most popular AHAs used in skincare products:
Glycolic Acid – Hydrating, AHA from sugar cane
Lactic Acid – Good sensitive skin, from milk, lactose, or other carbohydrates
Citric Acid – Antioxidant, from citrus fruits
Malic Acid – Good for sensitive skin, antioxidant, from apples and other fruits
Tartaric Acid – Can be derived from grapes
How to use AHAs
AHAs can be found in every form of skincare product, from skin cleansers to body lotions.
Cleansers. A gentle way to introduce AHAs to your skincare routine, as cleansers don’t have to stay on the skin for long.
Toners. The most popular way AHAs reach the dressing table or bathroom sink table. Use your favorite cleanser and follow with a cotton ball moistened with AHA toner. These AHA toners are usually in lower AHA concentrations and are suitable for daily use.
Serums and Creams. AHA serums are applied in between toner and moisturizer. Serums are usually left on the skin overnight. As these products stay on the skin longer, they work deeper but may damage sensitive skin.
Face Masks or Peel. AHA face masks are available in sheet masks, cream, or bottles with droppers. And with varying strengths. These are for more serious resurfacing and are used once or twice monthly, depending on skin tolerance and product AHA concentration.
Other Products. Exfoliating Creams, Body Washes, and Body lotions. Exfoliate without scrubbing, for equally radiant, smooth, glowing skin.
Daily use AHA products contain anywhere from 4%-12% acid concentration. Once a week or twice monthly treatments do go higher.
First things first, patch test. It’s a prudent practice when trying out new products. Check to see how the skin reacts, especially for people with sensitive skin. For newbie AHA users, a better start is to build a tolerance to the acids. For example, if an AHA mask says ‘once a week, 10 minutes on’, maybe start with every other week at 5 – 8 minutes.
If using an AHA peeling product, using sun protection is vital. A high sunscreen protection (SPF) during the day, even when not expecting to be directly under the sun’s light. Sun damage can occur, albeit to a lesser degree, even when merely near the sunlight like sitting beside a window or driving in an un-tinted car. The skin may still be going through continued exfoliation. High SPF will also protect the new emerging skin cells.
The Raw Deal
Reach for once-weekly or once-monthly alpha hydroxy acid masks and peels if you’re looking for faster and much intense exfoliation, compared to physical exfoliants. Or choose to start slow with daily AHA use through products such as cleansers, toners and serums and creams.
You can, and should, patch test. Recommended spots to do a patch test on are the back of the neck or the crease of the elbow; find out if your skin can take the AHA peels. If you have very sensitive skin or have pre-existing conditions, maybe stick to the gentler daily AHA products or ask for the dermatologist’s opinion. Desiring deeper, stronger peels? Visit the professionals and let them do the work for you.
Though AHA may not be suitable for everyone, gorgeous, glowing skin, which is softer, smoother, younger-looking skin with lesser lines and marks, is the promise of AHAs. And alpha hydroxy acids do deliver results.