Types of beneficial Acids (AHA, BHA, PHA)

Facial treatment using acid

If you have ageing, acne or dull skin concerns, acids are powerful ingredients that can have positive effects on your skin. We know it can be intimidating to apply it to your skin when you have no idea what the acronyms, AHA, BHA & PHA mean. And what do these acids even do for your skin? Let us decode the types of beneficial skin acids, so you can decide which one is best for your facial skincare routine.

If you’re concerned with ageing skin, AHAs might interest you. AHA (Alpha hydroxy acid) are water-soluble acids made from sugary food. It is used to exfoliate the skin, treat pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, enlarged pores and uneven skin tone.

The most common AHAs in skincare are glycolic acid and lactic acid. With the smallest molecular structure as compared to other acids, it can penetrate the skin more deeply. Hence, AHAs products are favoured for those with normal to dry skin.

BHA (Beta hydroxy acid) is an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant that is great for those who have oily skins and struggle with acne and blackheads. Since BHAs can be dissolved into the oil, they can work their way into blocked pores, dissolving sebum and dead skin cells that are clogging up your skin. The most common BHA is salicylic acid.

With their anti-inflammatory properties, BHAs can also soothe breakouts and diminish redness without stripping the skin’s essential oil.

A second-generation of AHAs, PHAs are chemical exfoliants that remove your dead skin cells and even out skin tone and texture. The most common PHAs are gluconolactone, galactose and lactobionic acid. With its gentle properties, it is suitable for those with sensitive skin or those who have experienced an adverse reaction to AHAs and BHA previously.

Since PHA contains larger molecule sizes than AHAs and BHAs, it is only able to penetrate the skin on a surface level, making them ideal for any skin types. Other benefits include preventing glycation, rich in antioxidants and stimulate epidermal growth and repair.

Retinoic Acid
A holy grail sworn by dermatologists and skin experts, Retinol acid has a wide range of benefits. It is a multi-functional ingredient that restores the skin, smoothes wrinkles, works as an antioxidant to improve a vast range of skin concerns and slows down signs of ageing.

However, it is important to note that it’s best to introduce retinol into your daily skincare routine slowly. Your skin has to build up a tolerance to prevent unwanted side effects so you could start off limiting your usage to once or twice a week. We suggest applying a pea-sized amount of retinol to clean and dry skin at night and waiting at least 30 minutes before applying other skincare products.

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What Ingredients Should Be In My Skincare?

Active ingredients in acne-range skin care such as cleansers, exfoliators and toners which have been proven to be beneficial for acne include benzoyl peroxide (BP) and the family of hydroxy acids, of which there are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), and polyhydroxy acids (PHA) such as lactobionic acid and gluconolactone.

Benzoyl Peroxide

BP has keratolytic, comedolytic and antibacterial properties – it has a mild drying and peeling effect which is thought to help prevent breakouts and can also kill P. acnes bacteria. It is available in various concentrations. It may be used as an ingredient in acne cleansers, or as a spot treatment for certain acne lesions.

Hydroxy Acids (AHA, BHA, PHA)

The hydroxy acids chemically exfoliate the surface of the skin, improving skin texture and tone by removing dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. This signals the skin to increase cell turnover, which can help existing acne lesions heal faster and can prevent pores from becoming clogged. The exfoliation also helps alleviate dry, flaky skin.

They may be incorporated into cleansers and skincare in a low concentration, or as a chemical peel in a higher concentration.

Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most common AHAs used in skin care formulations, in creams and gels in 10% or lower strength. Salicylic acid is the most commonly used BHA.

PHAs are also known as the new generation of AHAs – they provide similar effects of traditional AHAs without the associated sensory side effects of irritation and stinging. Due to their larger molecule size, they are less penetrative and are able to break down the protein which binds dead skin cells to your face. Additionally, PHAs such as gluconolactone have strong moisturizing and humectant properties. This makes them suitable to be used on sensitive or inflamed skin, and less likely to cause skin irritation and dryness.

Zinc, Niacinamide, B3 & Tea Tree Oil

Other over-the-counter (OTC) ingredients which have been incorporated into acne skincare include zinc, nicotinamide (also known as niacinamide and vitamin B3) and tea tree oil. Both zinc and nicotinamide can be used in inflammatory acne as it has anti-inflammatory properties and the potential to decrease the release of inflammatory cytokines. Tea tree oil has broad antimicrobial and antifungal properties and some anti-inflammatory activity as well.