What is Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

We are coming to the end of our ingredient blog series. It’s only right that we end it with one of the golden children of skincare ingredients - Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA).

AHAs are basically plastered all over everywhere you go, and it all sounds good, but do you REALLY know what it is? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you today.

Over the counter creams and lotions with alpha-hydroxy acids are claiming to help with fine lines, irregular pigmentation and age spots, and may help shrink enlarged pores. AHAs are actually not just one thing but it’s the group name for several types of acids that are found naturally in foods and plants (we’ll get into that in a minute). They act as an exfoliant and peeling agent, they are able to slough off skin cells without actual scrubbing. In fact, AHAs are more gentle on your skin than most scrubs or cleansing brushes.

How AHAs work

As we age, our skin’s natural ability to sheds built up layers of dead skin cells slows WAY down. Excessive sun exposure, extreme temperatures, hormone changes, and other skin problems can make skin appear dull and older-looking. The youthful glow starts to fade. Using an AHA exfoliant can gently slough off the dead cells on the uppermost layer of your skin exposing the new, glowing skin underneath. This also helps to diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles, improve skin firmness, texture, and tone. Other than being an exfoliant, AHAs can also help to unclog pores and has extreme hydrating properties.

Types of AHAs

AHAs is not an ingredient by itself per se. There are many varieties of AHAs but the most common found in skincare products are:

  • Glycolic acid (from sugar cane)
    • Glyolic acid is the most researched of the AHAs and, along with lactic acid, has been show to deliver the best results. Glycolic acid is so special because of its ability to quickly penetrate the uppermost layers of dead skin cells to reveal the healthier skin underneath. Its also naturally hydrating. Used alone or with other AHAs at concentrations of 5%+, glycolic acid can help improve appearance of skin’s firmness.
  • Lactic acid (from milk)
    • Lactic acid has similar properties to glycolic acid, but it works a bit slower to penetrate the skin’ surface than glycolic acid. Lactic acid in concentrations of 2%+ can help to hydrate skin. At 5%+, it begins working as an exfoliant.
  • Citric acid (from citrus fruits)
    • Citric acid is considered the more irritating AHA due to its naturally lower and skin-sensitizing pH of 2.2. Low amounts of citric acid are used in many skincare products where it works as an antioxidant.
  • Malic acid (from apples)
    • Malic acid is used as an exfoliant as well as an antioxidant. Malic acid is typically not used alone because it’s not considered as effective as glycolic or lactic acid. However, in concentrations of 1- 2%, malic acid is a good secondary multi-level exfoliating agent when used with glycolic or lactic acid.

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