Anyone chasing smooth, even, and clear dewy skin has probably heard of
AHAs and BHAs. Perhaps you’ve seen it as a footnote on the bottle
of your cleanser, serum, or exfoliator. You know it’s a good thing,
but you’re not really sure what it is or how it works. If you’ve
been using a manual exfoliator with scrubby bits in it, we’re just
about ready to slap it out of your hands from all the damage you’re
likely doing to your skin. If all you needed to know was a little bit
about how these chemical exfoliators worked to dive in to them, by all
means, read on.
AKA “Alpha Hydroxy Acids”, AHAs are what you can consider
the Goo-Gone of dead skin debris. The weak bonds that keep that layer
of dead skin on your hide are essentially dissolved with AHAs so your
skin can let go of the dead stuff and let the new skin cells surface.
AHAs are great chemical exfoliants for people with dry and sensitive skin,
since they can help remove dead skin in the gentlest way possible that
doesn’t involve manually buffing them off (which harms the new skin
AHAs also have humectant properties, meaning they hold moisture to your
skin. Aside from daily skin-clearing, over time AHA use helps to thicken
the epidermis and increase collagen production—all of which is excellent
for repairing photo-damaged skin as well as protecting it from future
UV damage. Extra collagen means firmer plumper skin. So as far as anti-aging
concerns go, you’ve got two birds with one stone. The caveat is
that AHAs do cause photosensitivity so they should be used at night only
and you should always wear a broad spectrum sunscreen during the day (but
you were already doing that, right?).
The most common AHAs are Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, and Mandelic Acid.
Keep in mind that these are strong substances and should be used in very
small percentages. Not sure which ones to use? Here’s a tiny tip sheet:
- Glycolic: Probably the most common AHA because it has the smallest molecular
size, meaning it can penetrate your skin the deepest for repair (but also
can be potentially the most irritating if you go overboard). Go for lower
percentages (less than 10%) when trying them out and work your way up
- Lactic: This is a milk-derived acid which happens to be great for addressing
redness issues like roseacea and sensitive skin in general. It is also
a humectant so it won’t over-dry your skin as it helps slough off
that top layer.
- Mandelic: This one is great for acne-prone skin because of its anti-bacterial
and anti-viral properties. It has the largest molecular size of these
AHAs which just means that it works over a longer time period, but is
also the least irritating. This one is also a milk humectant.
They may be Beta Hydroxy Acids, but make no mistake–these acids
are no wimps. They are however your secondary selection if AHAs just aren’t
tough enough for your skin. BHAs are generally encouraged for oily and
acne-prone skin since they are oil soluble (while AHAs are water soluble),
making them perfect for treating blackheads, whiteheads, and acne. Rather
than just loosen the bonds that hold debris to your skin, they actively
penetrate your pores and remove whatever gunk is in there.
Cosmetically, BHAs almost always refer to salicylic acid—something
you’ve no doubt seen on almost any acne treatment. Salicylic acid
is a derivative of aspirin—a known anti-inflammatory—which
makes it great for relieving your skin of any inflammation (but also not
great if you have aspirin allergies—sorry). It’s also commonly
found in dandruff treatments since it’s can calm irritation on your
scalp as well as sloughing away the dead skin that’s flaking.
One of the better benefits of BHAs are that in clearing your pores of any
gunk, whatever treatments you then put on top of your newly cleaned skin
can absorb properly. So, anti-aging serums? Brightening agents? All good
to go 100% once your canvas is cleared. BHAs themselves give you similar
skin benefits to AHAs, like helping increase the thickness of skin, as
well as collagen production, and improves wrinkles, roughness and hyperpigmentation.
They don’t possess humectant qualities however and can dry out your
skin, so this is why it’s not generally recommended for those with dry skin.
How to use them?
Unless you’re a skin care layering pro, it can be confusing as to
where these magic skin potions go in your skin care sandwich. They should
be applied on clean skin so there’s no extra stuff to have to fight
through to get down to business— so after cleansing and toning but
before serums and moisturizers. And please don’t forget sunscreen
as your last step!
Orginially featured in Stylecaster.com