Alpha-hydroxy acids

Alpha-Hydroxy acids in Skincare

AHAs are chemical exfoliants that can remove the dead skin cells on top of the skin. They are derived from sugar canes or other plant sources, which is why they are called fruit acids. They can be used as part of your skincare routine or as a clinical peel.

  1. Glycolic acid
  2. Mandelic acid
  3. Citric acid
  4. Lactic acid
  5. Malic acid
  6. Tartaric acid

Benefits of using AHA’s:

  • It can help with pigmentation: AHAs can treat sun damage including pigmentation + solar keratoses. Sunspots can be treated with higher concentration clinical peels, ranging from 30%-70%.
  • It can treat acne: AHA’s can treat acne but BHA’s like salicylic acid peels can penetrate the oil glands better than AHA’s and they are also antiinflammatory. AHAs can still treat acne, whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.
  • It can treat enlarged pores: AHAs can also treat enlarged pores and home AHAs ranging from 8%-15% can treat these pores.
  • Anti-aging: AHAs can also treat wrinkles and photoaging. Clinical strength peels from 50%-70% are used.
  • Can treat melasma: melasma can be treated with AHAs, BHAs, TCA peels, retinoic acid, dermamelan, and cosmelan peels.
  • Brighten skin
  • AHA’S are best for chemical exfoliation, sun damage, melasma, freckles, pigmentation, wrinkles, collagen-building, and photo damage.

Who all use it?

AHAs can be used by anyone who wants to treat sun damage, melasma, freckles, pigmentation, wrinkles, collagen-building, and photodamage. It is mainly used for chemical exfoliation.

AHAs should however be used with caution for sensitive skin and skin of color. For these skin types, glycolic acid can be very irritating. Mandelic acid seems to be the best choice for sensitive skin and skin color.

Lactic acid is said to be non-irritating and gentle but can still lead to irritation for sensitive skin.

Make sure to consult a doctor about the concentrations of AHA you plan to be using on your skin.

How to choose and select the best AHAs?

When choosing AHAs, you should make sure to look at the concentrations and formulations. It is best to consult a dermatologist when looking into using AHAs in your skincare routine.

What skincare ingredients can you combine with AHAs?

  • Retinol and retinoids
  • Vitamin C
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Peptides
  • Niacinamide
  • Azelaic acid
  • Ceramides
  • Vitamin E
  • Tranexamic acid
  • Arbutin
  • Alpha arbutin

Note: AHAs should however be used with caution when combining them with retinol, ascorbic acid, ferulic acid, chemical, and physical exfoliants. They can irritate the skin especially if you have sensitive skin.

How to add AHAs to your skincare routine?

Things to remember when using an AHA:

  • AHAs should be used only at night. Using it in the morning can cause sun sensitivity.
  • They can be used 1-2 times a week depending on your skin type and irritation level.
  • Always make sure to read the packaging to know at what time of the day you can use the product and how many times you can use it a week.
  • Make sure to look at the concentrations.

Morning routine:

  1. Use a gentle cleanser
  2. Toner (optional).
  3. Apply your skincare actives, niacinamide, or vitamin C.
  4. Use moisturizer and then apply your sunscreen.

Night routine:

  1. Use a cleanser.
  2. Toner (optional).
  3. Use an AHA (glycolic acid or lactic acid, these are more common ones).
  4. Wait 30 mins and then use your skincare actives- Niacinamide, Vitamin C, or Retinol.
  5. Then apply your moisturizer.

Note: For sensitive skin types and skin of color, using retinol or vitamin C together at night with an AHA can cause irritation.

  • Tip 1: you can try to use derivatives of Vitamin C or Retinol together with an AHA at night but do be cautious. Or you can just use niacinamide with an AHA at night.
  • Tip 2: you can also buy a product consisting of both retinol and niacinamide making it easier.
  • Tip 3: Since your using your AHAs 1-2 times a week, you can modify your skincare actives such as Vitamin C or Retinol. For example:
    • Alternate nights: on 1st night you can use your AHA/BHA/PHA with retinol. On the 2nd night, you can use your AHA/BHA/PHA with Vitamin C.

Important note:

This skincare routine is mainly an example and how you can layer an AHA into your skincare routine. There are many ways and methods you can layer these ingredients by yourself. Always listen to your skin. Remember to slow and use low concentrations.

Our advice would be if you have sensitive skin, go simple and use niacinamide instead of overcomplicating your skincare routine.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Are AHAs the same as retinol?

AHAs and retinol both have similar properties. They help in treating hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, acne, sun damage, and collagen-building. The only difference between these two is that an AHA is a chemical exfoliant that helps to remove dead skin cells on top of the skin whereas, retinol is a type of retinoid derived from Vitamin A that is applied topically to address the effects of aging and acne.

Is AHAs the same as Hyaluronic acid?

No, an AHA is a chemical exfoliant that is supposed to remove old skin cells. Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, is a humectant. They draw moisture from the air and into the skin leaving the skin hydrated and moisturized.

Is AHAs the same as Glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is a type of AHA that is derived from sugar cane. Other types of AHAs are Mandelic acid, Citric acid, Lactic acid, Malic acid, and Tartaric acid.

Are AHAs safe to use during pregnancy?

AHAs such as glycolic acid and lactic acid is said to be safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding, but do make sure to still consult a doctor about using these exfoliants.

Can AHAs be combined with Retinol?

Retinol works by increasing the cell turnover rate so that new skin cells can come to the top. AHAs work by exfoliating and shedding old skin cells. Together these ingredients can accelerate skin turnover. Not safe for sensitive skin and skin of color.

Can I use AHAs with vitamin C?

AHAs can be used with Vitamin C but this combination can be very irritating for the skin. Make sure to not use the same ingredients together at the same time. Try to use your Vitamin C in the morning and your AHA at night.

Can I use AHAs with other BHAS?

Yes, you can use AHAs with other BHAs as long they are used on alternate nights. For example, you can use an AHA on one night and a BHA on the second night.

Can AHAs thin skin?

No, AHAs thin the outermost layer of the skin, but overall thickens the epidermis of the skin. Higher doses of AHAs have been shown to thicken the epidermis. 50% glycolic acid peels cause thinning of the stratum corneum and enhance the granular layer in the skin.

This results in increased cell turnover helps with pigmentation and brightens the skin.