What Are Alpha-Hydroxy Acids?
These are a class of compounds that serve as chemical exfoliants in skincare. In a much simple way, think of the exfoliation achieved after using a physical or mechanical method – Scrubs, which can be anything with micro-beads or granules; an example includes sugar, salt, coffee, etc then relate this to exfoliation with a deeper penetration and without the extra tension of rubbing rough grains and beads over the skin. There is a list of acids classified under the name Alpha-Hydroxy Acids and though this happens to be the strongest group in hydroxy acids compared to Beta and Poly Hydroxy Acids, the power of skin penetration differs amongst the acids in this class.
AHAs are derived primarily from plants and animals but they can be produced synthetically in the laboratory, for example,
– glycolic acid is considered a fruit acid as it is derived from sugarcane,
– lactic acid is derived from sour milk,
– malic acid is derived from apples,
– tartaric acid is derived from grape,
– mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds, and AHAs are water-soluble acids which means they will work on surface level areas of the skin implying that AHA will not impact the oil based areas like the hair follicles.
AHAs act as skin peelers, gradually removing the skins’ surface, getting rid of dead cells, aging skin, reducing acne spots, and pigmentations by dissolving the bonds between skin cells. With proper use of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid class, the skin texture and overall look can be improved as these chemicals can impact the dermis, therefore, stimulating collagen production and the sugar molecules that hold water such as the hyaluronic acid.
AHAs also work on the skin by improving the penetration of other skincare active ingredients used. Mostly the formulations are used at nighttime routines but there are some brands that have a gentle exfoliating effect and can be used during the day. Some of the acids can also boost defense against UV rays but cannot take the place of sunscreen.
When the word acid is mentioned it sounds like a warning alarm to the ears of many people but think about it, if these chemicals are used right and in the correct concentration, they are safe for the general public. The higher doses of AHAs cannot be found in the drug/beauty store but these are used in the SPA and beauty places when chemical peels are done.
However, applying sunscreen is non negotiable while using any type of AHA. It is also best to begin with a low concentration product especially the glycolic acid which is the most popular and smallest molecule, that means it penetrates the skin really quickly.
All skin types can benefit from the use of AHAs, what matters is the concentration and frequency of use.
Mostly shown good results in aging skin, acne prone skin, dull/pale skin, hyperpigmented skin.
For sentive skin it is better to use beta hydroxy acid – BHA, which is a less stronger acid with larger molecules but mostly oil based and takes a bit more time to pentrate the skin (See blog post on BHA for more)
While there is a lot of benefit in applying these acids to skincare routines, there can be side effects like drying the skin, making it look flaky and dehydrated. This is common especially when several acids are used at the same time.
- It is also recommended to perform a patch test for a week (I suggest on the inner part of your elbow)
- It is recommended to use AHAs and most acids at night as this would prevent the possible reaction to sunlight.
- It is recommended to apply AHA only 2-3 times a week (depending on your skin type)
- Age can influence how fast results can be seen due to cell turnover
- It is still recommended to see a professional