Skincare Skills

by Lydia

Skincare blogger

January 12, 2022

What is AHA? Facts About The Best Alpha Hydroxy Acids

What is AHA? They are finding their way into the best beauty products, and even dermatologists recommend them for remedying most skin problems. Now, if you are wondering what they are and why they make such a buzz, keep reading to have all your questions answered.

What is AHA?

AHA refers to Alpha Hydroxy Acid. Alpha hydroxy acids are chemical compounds derived from plants and animal products. They are mostly found naturally in fruits, milk, and sugar cane. Over the years, alpha-hydroxy acids have been used in beauty products because of their effectiveness in shedding dead skin cells and thickening deeper skin layers, so the skin looks firmer and radiant.

The alpha-hydroxy acids are available in different types when used in cosmetic products. Some of the most common types of AHAs include;

  • Glycolic acid derived from sugar cane
  • Lactic acid derived from milk, dairy, and some fermented vegetables
  • Citric acid derived from citrus fruits
  • Tartaric acid found in grapes
  • Hydroxycaproic acid found in royal jelly
  • Malic acid derived from apples
  • Hydroxycaprylic acid found in animal products
  • Mandelic acid derived from almonds

While each of these AHAs is effective, glycolic and lactic acids are used in most products. Glycolic acid and Lactic acid, the most researched AHAs, cause minimal skin irritation or unwanted outcomes. In addition, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size, making it the easiest to penetrate the skin layers.

Why are Alpha Hydroxy Acids Used in Cosmetic Products?

Your skin has two main layers; the outermost avascular epidermis and the deeper vascular dermis. For a topical beauty product to be effective, it needs to penetrate these two layers. AHAs have small molecular sizes, which allow them to easily penetrate the skin layers and interact with the living cells.

When in contact with the skin's outer layer, alpha hydroxy acids help shed the extra dead skin cells that can otherwise clog your pores. When the acids reach the vascular dermis, they interact with the living cells to repair photodamaged skin, promote collagen production, and thicken the skin without inflaming it. The result is improved skin texture and health.

What Are the Benefits of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids?

When your favorite beauty product comes with AHAs such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, and citric acid, you now understand it can improve your skin condition. When you need to know more about ways the alpha-hydroxy acids help your skin, here are the main benefits you can expect.

a) Gentle exfoliation

If you have acne-prone skin, oily skin, aging skin, or sensitive skin, you already want to steer away from physical exfoliators like granular scrubs, face cloths, and brushes. Why? Well, these are tough on your skin and can damage the natural skin barrier to open your skin pores and expose you to possible infections.

In this case, your best solution is using a chemical exfoliant, and especially one with alpha-hydroxy acids such as lactic and glycolic acid. As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest reasons AHAs are used in cosmetic products is because of how easily they interact with your skin cells. They will rid dead skin cells and promote better skin renewal through collagen production.

Exfoliation is a process that requires you to remove the outmost layer of skin that mostly includes dead skin. If not removed, these skin cells can clog your pores and cause unwanted conditions like acne and dull skin, or even skin discoloration.

When looking for a gentle exfoliator, using one formulated with AHAs will help you treat acne, acne scars, fine lines and wrinkles, and dull skin by removing dead skin cells.

b) Radiant skin

Dealing with signs of aging or dull skin? You will need a good cleanser, exfoliator, toner, or moisturizer with the best AHAs to remove dead skin cells for better radiant, glowing skin. The best thing about AHAs is that they don't cause skin irritation, and they will remove dry, flaky skin and a host of other skin impurities you want to treat.

c) They reduce skin discoloration

As your skin continues being exposed to elements such as UV rays, wind, and more, you might notice some skin discolorations or dark spots forming. In addition, other conditions such as acne spots, melasma, and hereditary hyperpigmentation could force you to look for the best skin products.

Getting products formulated with AHAs is a great way to ensure better skin cell renewal where all the skin cells are formed with even pigmentation. Glycolic acid is one of the best forms of AHAs that can remedy skin discoloration.

d) AHAs can reduce acne

People with oily skin mostly deal with acne problems, which arise when the skin pores are filled with dead skin cells plus excess oil. When clogged, these pores will also attract dirt and become infected, hence the appearance of pus-filled, painful pimples. Alpha hydroxy acids will clear the old skin cells to prevent them from clogging your pores.

What is the Difference Between AHA and BHA?

If you have been looking for a good beauty product for a while, you must have come across the best products that can contain glycolic acid as well as another acid called salicylic acid. Wondering what it is?

Salicylic acid is another acid used in cosmetic appliances. It belongs to another class of chemical products called BHA, which stands for Beta-Hydroxy Acid. While AHAs are good for almost all skin types, including sensitive and dry skin, a BHA like salicylic acid is ideal for oily and acne-prone skin.

Both AHAs and BHAs are ideal for chemical exfoliation, and you can find skincare products that contain them both.

When treating acne, sun damage, enlarged pores, and other skin problems, you can also look for other types of acids that are not used for skin exfoliation only. For example, some humectants, such as hyaluronic acid tackle skin concerns such as dryness, sensitivity, and more.

How Can You Use AHA Products in Skin Care Routines?

Most products with AHAs as active ingredients are ideal for exfoliation. Still, you can find alpha-hydroxy acids in the following products;

  1. Cleansers
  2. Toners
  3. Serums
  4. Moisturizers
  5. Face pads

a) In a wash-off product

You can get a cleanser made with glycolic acid or other AHAs and wash your face as follows;

  1. Wet your face, then apply the cleanser in small, circular motions to improve blood flow.
  2. Once the cleanser is evenly distributed, let it sit on your face for at least 30 seconds. This time will allow it to penetrate further into your skin, loosening old skin cells and reaching your vascular dermis to enhance collagen production.
  3. Rinse the cleanser off with clean, warm water.
  4. Apply a moisturizer of choice.

b) As a leave-in toner, moisturizer, or serum

You can get a leave-in cream that is formulated with some of the best AHAs. Then, if possible, you can apply the cream, lotion, or serum at night so it can work on your skin through the night.

c) Skin peels

If you'd like a faster way to remove extra dead skin, you can look for a peel formulated with an AHA. Peels are prescription-strength skin treatments that get rid of old, dry skin to improve your skin texture and pigmentation.

It is best to use peels less frequently; they are ideal for use once or twice every two weeks. If you find your skin concerns more demanding, you can consult a dermatologist to provide medical advice.

Are There Any Side Effects of Using AHA Products?

When buying AHA cleansers, creams, and serums, it is best to understand which concentration is safe for your skin.

Most beauty products with a concentration of less than 10 are safe to use by most people. Any percentage higher than this makes the product too concentrated, albeit more effective. If the topical product you buy comes with a higher concentration, you will need to use it under the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist.

On the other hand, AHAs like malic acids can be taken orally, but you need to take the prescription from a qualified dermatologist.

That said, here are some common side effects you can get from using products with AHAs.

  1. AHAs could increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. An AHA like citric acid is most culpable in this case. To mitigate the symptoms, you will need to wear sunscreen before heading out.
  2. People with sensitive skin can also notice mild skin irritation, redness, itching, discoloration, or swelling. These side effects can occur after applying the AHAs topically.
  3. When you take malic acids orally, some possible side effects include diarrhea, nausea, or stomach discomfort.

To mitigate the severeness of these side effects;

  1. Only take an oral prescription from a dermatologist.
  2. Perform a simple skin test before applying the topical products to other areas. For instance, you can apply a small amount on the back of your hand to look out for any skin irritation. If any occurs, it is best not to use the product at all.
  3. Avoid using AHAs on injuries where your skin is broken or sunburned. It is also best not to use them on infants and young children.

About the author 

Lydia

My name is Lydia Adams and I have been a skincare blogger in one way or another for many, many years.

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