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How Alpha Hydroxy Acid Can Treat Your Skin Issues


When it comes to step 3 of your Korean skincare routine, finding a good exfoliator is no easy task, especially if you have sensitive or very dry skin.

If you’re experiencing such skin, you want something powerful enough to slough away dead skin cells, but not too harsh nor irritating.

When deciding on an exfoliating product, you’ve probably come across 2 types of exfoliators.

There are physical exfoliators, like a scrub, that contains granules used to scrape away dry and dead skin.

Then there are chemical exfoliators that offer a milder exfoliation (like an acid-based peel) that’s better for most sensitive skin types.

Chemical exfoliators are classified as either AHA (Alpha hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid). In this article, we’re going to look closely at chemical exfoliators, specifically AHA, and how it can benefit your skincare routine. 

That said, let’s begin, shall we?



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AHA vs BHA: What’s The Difference?

Alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble, thus are preferable for dry skin and are commonly derived from food products.

They work on the surface to help exfoliate, brighten and reduce the appearance of fine lines, acne scars and dark spots. Essentially, a holy grail product for pretty much all skin types. The most famous AHA  to look for in an exfoliator is probably glycolic acid, but more on the different types later.

While AHA’s work on the skin’s surface, BHAs work on the skin’s surface and inside the pores. That’s why BHAs, also known as salicylic acid, is good for acne-prone, oily skin and can be more effective at targeting closed comedones (black and whiteheads).

As BHA is oil-soluble it can get beneath the skin’s surface, cleaning out excess sebum from the pores and minimize oiliness.

If you want to learn more about the differences between AHAs and BHAs, check out this guide for a deeper comparative look.


Where Can I Find Alpha Hydroxy Acid Products?

You can find both AHA and BHA acids in a variety of:

  • Cleansers
  • Toners
  • Moisturizers
  • Scrubs
  • Peels
  • Masks


What are the Different Types of AHAs?

If you read labels you might not even know it has AHA unless you look for it. This is because there are different types of AHA as it is an umbrella term. The most common ones to look for are:

  • Glycolic Acid: Releases and dissolves dead skin cells – clearing up blocked pores and blackheads. It’s a very effective acne treatment that helps deep blockages of dead skin cells and sebum. However, it can also easily irritate your skin if you use to much. Start out with a lower percentage (-10%) of glycolic acid and use every 3 days.
  • Lactic Acid: The second most common AHA. This active ingredient is derived from milk and great for tackling redness. People with Rosacea or sensitive skin will benefit the most from this AHA. It’s far more moisturising to the skin than glycolic acid, and less likely to irritate, making it a better choice for more sensitive skin types.
  • Mandelic Acid: Mandelic acid targets wrinkles and fine lines, hyperpigmentation and discolouration and is also good at treating acne. It helps accelerate cell turnover by dissolving the tiny bonds that hold skin cells together.
  • Citric Acid: From oranges to lemon and grapefruit, citric acid is found in fruits and is an effective antioxidant. It helps fight damage in the form of wrinkles, sagging, and discoloration.
  • Tartaric Acid: It is found in unripe grapes, but when it comes to skin it’s amazing for smoothing out the texture of their skin.
  • Malic Acid: Great for acne-prone skin, it is mostly found in apples and cherries as well as other fruits. It helps open pores and clear out sebum.



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Should You Use An AHA Exfoliator?

Besides retinoids, which may be a bit hardcore for some, the most serious actives available without a prescription are L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and AHA and BHA chemical exfoliants.

But not everyone needs acids in their routine. Only consider L-ascorbic acid, AHA, and/or BHA if you’re needing help with:

  • Blackheads: BHA
  • Breakouts: BHA, AHA
  • Aging signs including crow’s feet, fine lines and wrinkles: AHA,  L-ascorbic acid
  • Sun damage: AHA,  L-ascorbic acid
  • Hyperpigmentation: AHA, L-ascorbic acid


How to Use Alpha Hydroxy Acids In Your Routine

  • One basic rule of thumb – start from the lowest concentration possible and work your way up. Our skin needs to be introduced to the acids slowly.
  • Second, products should be applied from the lightest to the thickest consistency. So your routine should look something like this.
  • Most people will find it’s too extreme to use an AHA and BHA exfoliant at the same time. Consider alternating them using one in the morning and the other in the evening after cleansing and toning. Or consider alternating days: apply an AHA once on Monday, a BHA once on Tuesday, and so on.
  • For sensitive skin types, you should avoid using both BHA and AHA at the same time. Anytime you combine active ingredients you increase your chances of irritation. Over-exfoliation is un-pretty and painful.
  • But if you’re combining AHA and BHA products, only ever incorporate one product at a time, and do a test patch only using it on a tiny part of your skin in case you break out. That way you can be sure of the culprit.
  • Lastly, aim to use the AHAs in the evening as it causes photo-sensitivity. With this increased photo-sensitivity, make sure you don’t neglect SPF either! BHAs can be used morning or night, but if possible, use it in the evening.


Ready To Use Alpha Hydroxy Acids In Your Routine?

If you’re still unsure which AHA or BHA products are right for you, check with your dermatologist or consult with a skin aesthetician at your local beauty counter.

This may save you a lot of time, at the least. And since it’s your skin, it’s well worth the effort.

Stay tuned. @kiseu

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