By now, we have heard enough about the importance of exfoliation for brighter, softer and younger-looking skin. Did you know that hydroxy acids are one of the biggest winners in this department? This is because they are scientifically-backed, derived from nature, gentle on the skin and safe to use for most skin types.
So let’s understand what they are and which ones you can use to combat your skin issues.
1. What Are Hydroxy Acids?
Hydroxy acids work as chemical exfoliators. This type of exfoliation uses acids that penetrate deep into the skin, clearing out clogged pores and increasing cell turnover ratio. They have a prolonged effect on the skin. However, if you have sensitive skin, your dermatologist may recommend these in lower concentrations.
Hydroxy acids work through your skin and unclog pores filled with oil and dead skin cells. Some hydroxy acids control the production of excess sebum as well. This prevents the development of acne vulgaris.
There are two types of hydroxy acids:
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)
- Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs)
What Do They Do For Your Skin?
- Remove dead skin cells
- Increase cell turnover ratio
- Has anti-inflammatory properties
- Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Prevent acne
- Improve texture of skin
2. AHAs Alpha-Hydroxy Acids
AHAs are water-soluble acids. This means that they easily dissolve in water. They are derived from fruits and work as exfoliants by gently peeling off the topmost layer of your skin. This exposes new skin cells, making your skin appear even, healthy, smooth and more firm. They are recommended in concentrations of 10-15 per cent.
AHAs do not penetrate into the deeper layers of your skin and are usually used to address skin conditions like:
- Age spots
- Sun spots
- Uneven skin tone
- Enlarged pores
- Fine lines and wrinkles
Although AHAs are considered safe to be used for all skin types, they may be slightly drying and irritate sensitive skin. If you have dry or sensitive skin, begin by applying low concentration AHA based products once or twice a week. If you don’t see a reaction and the product doesn’t irritate your skin, you can eventually incorporate it into your daily skincare regimen.
There Are 6 Main AHAs:
1. Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is the smallest alpha-hydroxy acid (1). This quality allows it to penetrate into deeper layers of the dermis and maintain healthy skin. This sugarcane-derived hydroxy acid is popularly used in a number of skincare products.
Glycolic acid is an excellent exfoliant. It absorbs dead skin cells, accumulated on the skin’s surface. This allows for the exposure of new and healthy cells, making your skin appear more radiant.
B. Boosts Collagen Production
Collagen is a fibrous protein found in the dermis. It keeps your skin together and prevents it from sagging. As we age, collagen levels drop naturally. The sun’s rays can also contribute to the break-down of this protein.
Working its way through the dermis, glycolic acid promotes collagen production in the deeper layers of your skin. This makes it effective in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
C. Effective In Treating Acne
Apart from being an effective exfoliating agent, glycolic acid also has antimicrobial properties that make it effective in treating mild to moderate acne.
Humectants attract moisture from the environment onto your skin. This allows your skin to stay hydrated. Glycolic acid works well in drawing moisture to the surface of the skin when used in moisturizers. A number of chemical peels contain this ingredient.
2. Citric Acid
Citric acid, derived from citrus fruits, is beneficial to your skin in a number of ways.
A. Balances Skin’s pH Levels
The skin’s pH levels range between 4.7-5.7. Pollution, sun damage and harmful beauty products may interfere with the pH levels of your skin. This makes it prone to a host of skin issues. Citric acid helps to maintain Skin's elevated pH levels and adds to its smooth texture (2).
B. Antibacterial Properties
Citric acid possesses antibacterial properties that can kill acne-causing bacteria. This may prevent acne symptoms.
C. Reduces Sun Damage
Citric acid is a naturally bleaching agent that helps reduce the appearance of dark spots, tan and pigmentation. It is also effective in increasing the efficacy of topically applied sunscreens.
3. Malic Acid
Malic acid is a combination of an AHA and a BHA. It is derived from apple acids and may not be as effective in treating skin conditions alone. It is recommended in combinations with other alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid to help reduce skin issues (3).
4. Mandelic Acid
Mandelic acid is derived from almonds. It addresses a wide range of skin issues and rejuvenates your skin, improving its texture and health.
Mandelic acid can be used in combination with other AHAs to increase the pace of exfoliation. It removes dead skin cell build-up and exposes new, healthy skin cells beneath them.
B. Treats Acne
Apart from its exfoliating properties, mandelic acid has antimicrobial properties. This makes it a good option to treat mild to moderate acne and comedones (4). The acid also reduces the appearance of enlarged pores and improves texture.
5. Lactic Acid
As the name suggests, lactic acid is derived from sour milk/curd.It is extremely gentle on the skin, adding to its smooth texture. If you have sensitive skin, lactic acid may be a good option for you.
Lactic acid is capable of making your skin “as smooth as milk”. Its moisturizing properties can soothe dry skin. Lactic acid also improves skin barrier functions (5). It helps your skin lock-in moisture that allows it to stay hydrated and soft.
6. Tartaric Acid
Tartaric acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid, made from grape extracts. It is usually recommended to be used in combination with glycolic or lactic acid to improve the pace of exfoliation.
3. BHAs Beta-Hydroxy Acids
BHAs are oil-soluble exfoliators that penetrate through the deeper layers of your skin. This makes them more effective in treating issues specific to oily skin. They remove dead skin cells and excess sebum from your skin, unclogging pores and reducing inflammation and acne symptoms.
BHAs work through the deep layers of your skin, unclogging pores and controlling the production of excess sebum. If you have sensitive skin, BHAs may not be recommended for your skin. They dry up excess oils and can make your skin more sensitive and irritated. However, to treat skin conditions like acne and rosacea on oily skin, BHAs may be particularly effective.
Here Are The Two Types Of BHAs:
1. Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is the most commonly used BHA and is a popular ingredient in the beauty industry. It is recommended in concentrations of 0.5 per cent and 5 per cent. Salicylic acid is used as a topical treatment for mild to moderate forms of acne (6). It works by penetrating through the skin and absorbs all the dirt and debris clogging your pores. This reduces breakouts and acne symptoms like redness and inflammation.
2. Citric Acid
Although primarily classified as an alpha hydroxy, citric acid can be categorized as a beta hydroxy in some forms as well. Citric acid can be used to dry out too much sebum underneath the skin and remove dead skin cells inside the pores.
4. Can You Use AHAs And BHAs Together?
AHAs and BHAs used together in the right concentrations have a lot to offer to your skin. However, they can dry up your skin and cause irritation if you don’t take these factors into consideration - time of application, concentration levels of the ingredients and your skin’s sensitivity.
Although the word ‘acid’ sounds like it can create havoc on your skin, hydroxy-acids benefit your skin in many ways. Talk to your dermatologist regarding which hydroxy-acids will help reduce your skin concerns.
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