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Skin Care Ingredients

What Are Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHAs), Beta, And Polyhydroxy Acids? How Do They Work?

by Beverly Hills MD

August 04 2020

When it comes to skincare, there are certain products that may help get you to achieve that glowy look you desire. Among that list includes hydroxy acids. 

This article delves into all things AHAs, including what they are, how they work, and the potential benefits they can add to your skincare routine so that you can put your freshest face forward.

What Are Alpha Hydroxy Acids?

beta hydroxy acid | Beverly Hills MDAlpha hydroxy acids are plant and animal-derived acids that are used in countless skincare products, such as high-quality serums, toners, creams, and even chemical peels. They may help lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and they may also help support healthy skin texture. AHAs may also help cleanse pores through a process known as organic synthesis.1

Skincare gurus in the cosmetic industry tout the benefits of AHAs because they may help support collagen production, which in turn, may lead to more radiant-looking skin.2

How Alpha Hydroxy Acids Work On The Skin

The main ways that an alpha hydroxy acid works (or, its“mode of action”) on the skin is as an exfoliant. This occurs by shedding the superficial dead cells from the top layer of skin. 

In addition to exfoliation, AHAs may also be useful when it comes to: 

  • Brightening the appearance of your skin
  • Helping with the appearance of skin discoloration 
  • Supporting healthy blood circulation to the face
  • Support your skin’s natural collagen production, which helps skin appear soft and supple
  • Reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Supporting better product absorption.3

Note: If you’ve started using an AHA, it’s imperative that you apply more sunscreen than usual, as AHAs might weaken the skin’s barrier function, causing you to become more prone to sun damage.4 An SPF moisturizer can be another great product to pair with any AHAs you’re using to ensure your skin is protected.

Types Of Alpha Hydroxy Acids 

alpha hydroxy acid | Beverly Hills MDThere are several types of AHAs, and they can be found in countless places. Here are just some of the AHAs to be on the lookout for — and what each acid does to help the skin. 

  • Glycolic acid: Ever used a great scrub that left your face feeling soft and smooth? That’s kind of how glycolic acid works. This acid, found widely in sugar cane, breaks down dead skin cells over time and peels away the outer layer of cells to reveal your next skin layer when applied.5
  • Lactic acid: This AHA can be found in lactose or other carbohydrates. When applied to the skin, lactic acid may be beneficial for hyperpigmentation and age spots, and it may help even out your complexion. It’s important to note that using lactic acid on red or irritated skin should be avoided, as it can exacerbate any irritation.6
  • Malic acid: This acid is found in various fruits, and it’s known for its ability to brighten the skin’s appearance and support a smooth texture, which is why it’s commonly found in anti-aging creams.7
  • Mandelic acid: This acid helps regulate the amount of sebum (oil) your skin makes. It may also help unclog pores and potentially help reduce breakouts.8
  • Tartaric acid: This acid, which is also most commonly found in grapes, is all about balance. Tartaric acid is an antioxidant and is a great defense against the sun’s harmful rays.9
  • Carboxylic acid: This AHA provides several potential skincare benefits, including anti-aging protection, moisture retention, and more.10

What are Beta Hydroxy Acids?

Beta hydroxy acids, BHAs, have been known to reduce the appearance of fine lines while improving overall skin texture. BHAs are an organic compound more commonly known as salicylic acid and citric acid.  

  • Salicylic acid: This is probably the most commonly known BHA. Salicylic acid may help clear breakouts on skin by drying out sebum in your pores.11
  • Citric acid: This BHA is found in many citric fruits (hence the name), and it’s great for deep-cleaning your pores and removing dead skin cells for the ultimate glow.12

skin health | Beverly Hills MD

Alpha Vs. Beta Hydroxy Acids 

So how does “beta hydroxy acid” compare to “alpha hydroxy acid” in your skincare. While the two acids (along with polyhydroxy acids) do a lot of the same things, such as help remove dead skin cells, beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) do come with a few differences.13 

One of the main differences is that AHAs are water-soluble, meaning that they get into the skin and slough off those dead cells, while BHAs are oil-soluble, meaning that they get deeper into the pores to cleanse the skin.14 

So, which one do you need? That all depends on your skin type and needs. If you’re looking for a glowing outer layer of skin (a.k.a the “stratum corneum”), AHAs might be the way to go. If you’re looking to completely transform your pores and potentially eliminate blemishes, try BHAs. 

Polyhydroxy acids, considered the “cousins” of AHAs and BHAs, are also great for the skin. Some research may be in order to find which type of acid will react best with your skin and its needs. Talk to your dermatologist to see which your skin might benefit best from. 

More Than Skin Deep 

At the end of the day, the ultimate skincare routine may help you look like you have more youthful, glowing skin. From dark skin to sensitive skin, it’s all about having the right product that works wonders for you — day in and day out. If you’re not sure which acid may be right for your skincare needs, be sure to consult your dermatologist.  

Don’t hesitate to consult your dermatologist before beginning a new skincare product that contains an AHA or BHA, especially if you have any skin conditions. While glowing skin is a must-have, some skin conditions need a little extra love and care. 

Now that you understand more about what AHAs are and how they may help your skin, those hard-to-read names on the back of the new product you’re curious about won’t seem so overwhelming. You deserve radiant skin – now’s the time!

Learn More:

Your Daily And Weekly Beauty Routine Improved: A New Hair And Skin Schedule

Why You Should Exfoliate Body, Face, Lips, And Hand Skin (Plus Exfoliation Tips For Softer And Smoother Skin)

How To Have Great Skin: Healthy Skin Care Habits, Tips, And Tricks

 


Sources:
1. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/alpha-hydroxy-acids
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9640557/
3. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/a19183960/alpha-hydroxy-acid/
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017965/
5. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/glycolic-acid-for-acne
6. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/lactic-acid-peel
7. https://www.healthline.com/health/malic-acid-skin-care
8. https://www.healthline.com/health/mandelic-acid
9. https://www.futurederm.com/spotlight-on-tartaric-acid
10. https://www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/Contemporary/student/pop_cosmetic_db_4.html
11. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/salicylic-acid-vs-benzoyl-peroxide#benefits
12. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/citric-acid
13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017965/
14. https://www.healthline.com/health/aha-vs-bha#key-differences