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AHA For Skin: Alpha Hydroxy Acid Benefits, Uses & Skincare Combinations

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Alpha-hydroxy acids are a chemical compound that are naturally found in certain foods like sugarcane, fruits and milk. They are water-soluble acids which work by dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells. Once the dead skin cells are loose, it’s easier to slough them away. AHA serums are a popular ingredient in skincare as a form of chemical exfoliation, a safer and gentler alternative to physical exfoliation.

  • AHAs exfoliate the skin efficiently.
  • They can improve the texture of the skin.
  • They can treat hyperpigmentation, dark spots and other signs of sun damage.
  • AHAs may prevent acne by removing layers of dead skin cells, dirt and sebum which could potentially clog the pores.
  • AHAs can brighten the skin as they remove a layer of older, dead skin cells.
  • They can help get rid of uneven skin tone and provide smoother skin.
  • They stimulate collagen production.
  • They may also help treat signs of aging such as fine lines, age spots etc.

 

  • Glycolic Acid- It is one of the common, well-researched AHAs derived from the sugarcane plant. It has the smallest molecular size of all AHAs, making it the most potent AHA. 
  • Lactic Acid- Lactic Acid is naturally produced by bacteria during anaerobic respiration, a common source of Lactic Acid is milk. Lactic Acid has a larger molecular size compared to other AHAs, which makes it gentler than other AHAs.
  • Mandelic Acid- Another AHA with a larger molecular size, Mandelic Acid is derived from almonds. 
  • Tartaric Acid- Tartaric Acid is an AHA derived from grapes, which is effective in treating pigmentation and signs of photodamage.
  • Citric Acid- Citric Acids is naturally found as a constituent in citrus fruits. It is the least acidic and one of the mildest AHAs of all.
  • Malic Acid- Derived from acids found in apples, Malic Acid is said to be an AHA-BHA hybrid. 
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Choosing an AHA from the long list of the ones available can be tough. So how to choose one? Well, the simplest way to choose an AHA is based on your skin type. 

For Oily skin type

If you’ve got an oily skin type, you can opt for Glycolic Acid or Mandelic acid. These AHAs work well with oily skin type as they have been known to be effective against acne and may control sebum production and minimise pore size.

For Dry skin type Lactic Acid is considered to be the best AHA for dry skin. It hydrates the skin while exfoliating. Lactic Acid has the potential to smoothen out dry skin while sloughing away dead skin cells.

For Combination skin type 

Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid and Citric Acid may be beneficial for those with combination skin types. Glycolic Acid tackles oiliness, acne and hyperpigmentation, Lactic Acid provides moisturisation while exfoliating while Citric Acid is capable of neutralising pH and may reduce pore size. 

For Sensitive skin type

Using an AHA can be challenging for those with sensitive skin types. But this does not mean it can’t be done, so don’t just give up yet. Those with sensitive skin types can try using Lactic Acid and Mandelic Acid. Owing to a larger molecular size, these AHAs don’t penetrate as deep into the skin, reducing the risk of irritation. They are gentler in comparison to other AHAs and mildly exfoliate the skin.

For Normal skin type

If you’ve been blessed by the skin gods and have normal skin type, you can use any AHA of your choice as you can benefit from any one of them.

You can also pick an AHA based on your skin concerns. For example, Tartaric Acid and Citric Acid are great to get rid of sun damage, Lactic Acid is excellent in combating dryness while exfoliating, and Glycolic Acid is effective against a wide range of skin concerns including hyperpigmentation and acne.

As with any other skincare ingredient, it’s important to start slow. If used incorrectly, AHAs have the potential to seriously damage the skin. They’re basically acids so it’s important to be careful with how you use them in your routine. Having said that, there’s no cause for worry, AHAs can actually become your skin’s best friend in no time. Start by using an AHA once a week and gradually work your way up. AHAs can cause sun-sensitivity so they should ideally be used in your night routine. Now coming to the products, there’s a whole range of products from serums to face masks containing AHAs. Here’s how you could use some of them-

  • Face washes/Cleansers- Face washes and cleansers containing AHAs are only meant to be in contact with the skin for a short period of time. This minimises the risk of irritation, making these products perfect for beginners. If you’re new to the world of AHAs, you could build your skin’s tolerance by beginning with a cleanser or a facewash containing AHAs. 
  • Peels- Peels come in a variety of concentrations and are meant to provide intense exfoliation as the name suggests. Depending on the product, these can be left on the skin for longer periods of time while some must be washed off in a set amount of time. Peels are not ideal for beginners as these could be harsh if your skin’s not used to AHAs. 
  • Pads- Pads are meant to exfoliate the skin gently. It involves wiping the skin with a pad soaked in a solution of AHA and other ingredients. These are also beginner-friendly and are a great way to include AHAs in your routine.
  • Serums- Serums can be considered as one of the most effective ways to use an AHA in your skincare routine. As serums stay on your skin for a longer period of time, it’s important to choose a well-formulated AHA serum for your skin type to get maximum benefits. Serums can be applied to the skin at night, followed by a moisturiser. Although some serums can be used up to thrice a week, it’s best to start slowly and stick to using it once a week until your skin becomes tolerant to it.
  • Masks- Masks are meant to provide maximum results in a shorter period of time, hence they are often formulated with higher concentrations of ingredients. They are an effective way to use AHAs in your routine, but make sure to check the formulation and see if your skin is tolerant to it.
  • Moisturisers- Similar to serums, moisturisers are meant to stay on the skin for longer periods of time. Moisturisers with AHA are multi-taskers as they hydrate the skin while gently exfoliating.
  • Beta-Hydroxy Acids- BHAs are oil-soluble counterparts of AHAs. They are also chemical exfoliants which work by penetrating deeper into the pores and cleansing out any dirt and bacteria clogging them. AHAs and BHAs go hand-in-hand and can boost each other’s action when used together. 
  • Hyaluronic Acid- Hyaluronic Acid is a humectant which deeply hydrates the skin. Using Hyaluronic Acid and AHAs together ensures that the skin doesn’t dry out due to exfoliation. In fact, it may allow a much more effective level of hydration as exfoliation allows ingredients to penetrate deeper and work efficiently.
  • Niacinamide- Niacinamide happens to be a barrier-repairing ingredient, meaning it heals the epidermal barrier of the skin. While exfoliation, the dead skin cells from the epidermal barrier are sloughed away leading to a fresh layer of skin exposed. Niacinamide may help protect the skin from damage and provide moisturisation after exfoliation.
  • Retinol- Similar to AHAs, Retinol is an exfoliating ingredient which causes an increase in the cell turnover rate. Using AHAs and Retinol together creates a risk of over exfoliation, hence it’s best to avoid using these two ingredients together in your routine.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide- Benzoyl Peroxide also works by exfoliating the skin, so it’s best to avoid AHAs and Benzoyl Peroxide in the same routine.

 

Although AHAs are generally well tolerated by most skin types, potential side effects include-

  • Redness
  • Peeling of the skin
  • Burning or Tingling sensation
  • Inflammation
  • Extreme dryness

Here are few of the things you need to keep in mind while using AHAs-

  • AHAs make the skin sensitive to sunlight. Hence it’s essential to use sunscreen while using AHAs.
  • AHAs must only be used at night to minimise the risk of irritation.
  • Although rare, irritation and allergy is possible with AHAs. It’s crucial to do a patch test before using an AHA.
  • It’s safest to slowly build tolerance to an AHA, so start with a low percentage and work your way up.
  • AHAs are exfoliating ACIDS, hence they are not meant for daily use unless formulated in a product which says otherwise. Always follow instructions mentioned on your product when it comes to AHAs.

Deconstruct Beginner’s exfoliating serum with 5% Lactic Acid + 0.5% Probiotics

With a concentration of 5% Lactic Acid, as the name suggests, this serum is ideal for beginners. It’s a mild exfoliating serum, suitable for all skin types.

Deconstruct Exfoliating Serum with 18% AHA + 2% BHA (Salicylic Acid)

A unique serum which consists of a blend of four types of AHAs and a BHA, this serum provides multiple benefits through one product. If you couldn’t decide on an AHA to use, this product’s your answer.

AHAs are wonderful skincare ingredients which can be the one stop solution to many skin problems. It’s important to follow precautions and instructions while using AHAs to avoid the risk of irritation. Although there’s a lot of caution surrounding AHAs, these can safely be used by most skin types. So, it’s time to ditch the physical exfoliators and up your skincare game with AHAs.

  • Can AHAs be used by oily skin types?

Yes, AHAs can be used on most skin types, including oily skin. Just pick the right AHA for you and you’re good to go.

  • Can AHA be used under eyes?

No, the skin surrounding the eye is gentler and more sensitive as compared to the rest of the face, hence it’s best to avoid using an AHA under eyes as it could result in irritation.

  • Can AHA serums be used every day?

While some AHA products claim to be safe for everyday use, it’s best to avoid the risk of over-exfoliation and irritation by using AHAs a maximum of thrice a week.

  • Is it safe to use an AHA?

AHAs are absolutely safe for use by most skin types. Just keep in mind to follow precautions and stick to the instructions mentioned on your product and you can reap the many benefits your AHA has to offer.

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