What are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)?
I know. You hear the word acid and you immediately think of an evil, acid-wielding villain from Batman.
No fear. Acids, specifically alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), are derived from fruit and dairy, and in my opinion, offer the best way to exfoliate the skin.
They typically come in a mask or serum form, and are sometimes called ‘fruit acids’. Rather than ‘mechanically’ loosening dead skin cells (typical of an exfoliating scrub), AHAs work to shed dead skin cells by dissolving the ‘glue’ that holds them together.
This may sound harsh, but in most cases (such as with lactic acid) AHAs can be fairly gentle and moisturizing. I particularly like them for treating acne since there is no physical abrasion (unlike a scrub) that could potential rupture pimples, spread bacteria, and over stimulate already red and inflamed skin. AHAs are also fantastic for clearing up congestion (black heads and white heads), brightening complexions, and lightening scars and dark spots.
Here are some common types:
Lactic acid: derived from corn or dairy products. This is considered a fairly gentle acid, and is good for most skin types; it’s also a natural humectant (meaning it retains moisture) and is therefore hydrating to the skin. This is my AHA of choice, and I am in LOVE with Pure + Simple’s Lactic Acid. I use it 2-3 times per week either all over my face, or just in spots that are prone to congestion.
Malic acid: most commonly derived from apples. It is less irritating than citric and glycolic acid, and is also a natural humectant.
Citric acid: derived from citrus fruits like lemon, grapefruit, and oranges. Excellent for brightening, and targeting age spots and scars.
Glycolic acid: most commonly derived from sugar cane. It has a small molecular structure that enables it to penetrates deep into the skin. However, it can be highly irritating and drying if used incorrectly, or too regularly.
Home care products will always have a higher pH level (aka less acidic) and contain a lower concentration of acid than professional use, however you should look for something with at least a 5% acid concentration and a pH between 3.5-4 for the product to be effective.
A little tingle is good . . . but a burning sensation is not so good!
VERY IMPORTANT: Always follow product instructions, avoid over use, immediately follow up with a moisturizer, and diligently wear sunscreen; as is the case with any exfoliation!!! If you’ve never used AHA products before, start with 1 application per week to avoid irritation and then gradually increase to 2-3 times per week.
When in doubt, consult a professional skin care therapist, esthetician, or dermatologist.