Did you know that around 70% of the skin is comprised of the AHA compound?
But what are AHAs? Are they useful in skin care products or are they just another ingredient with a fancy name?
What are AHAs?
Glycolic acid is the most frequently used AHA in skincare products.
It’s considered the smallest AHA molecule and can penetrate the skin more deeply than other AHAs.
AHAs are water-soluble, meaning they work on the surface layer of skin to gently exfoliate and loosen dead skin cells.
How do AHAs Work?
AHAs work by gently loosening the dead, dull skin cells that lay on top of your skin, revealing the fresher, younger-looking skin cells beneath.
AHAs are also excellent for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, smoothing out rough skin texture, improving the look of sun-damaged skin, and brightening up a dull complexion.
If you have acne scars or other types of scars, AHAs can help to reduce their appearance as well.
AHAs are also great for other areas of your body besides your face—they can help to improve the look and feel of dry, rough hands and feet!
There are different strengths of AHAs—some products contain very low percentages (3–5%) while others contain higher percentages (up to 12%).
Some use multiple types of AHAs at different strengths. You should always start with a lower percentage AHA product and gradually build up to a higher percentage once your skin has acclimated to it.
In other words, if you’re new to AHAs, begin with a product that contains 4% glycolic acid or less.
Your skin will take time to adjust to the exfoliation effects of an AHA product.
Can AHAs Be Used on All Skin Types?
Yes. AHAs are great for many different skin types, including sensitive skin and skin that’s prone to acne.
As long as you use a low percentage of AHAs for your specific skin type, it should be okay to use.
However, you may want to do a patch test first just in case.
Does Using AHAs Cause Your Skin to Be More Sensitive to Sun?
The reason AHAs make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage has to do with how they work. As you probably know by now, these types of acids dissolve the bonds between dead skin cells so they can be sloughed off, revealing fresher, newer skin underneath.
This can result in dryness and irritation in some cases, but it also means your skin becomes thinner and more delicate.
With less protection from the elements, it’s easier for UV rays to penetrate and cause damage.
In fact, one study found that the longer you use an AHA product, the more susceptible your skin becomes to UV radiation — after 12 weeks of use, your risk of sunburn increases by 69 percent!
What Kind of AHAs Are There?
There are three main types of AHAs that you’ll find in skincare products: glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid.
1. Glycolic acid
Glycolic acid typically comes from fruit sugars, such as sugar cane. It is the smallest alpha-hydroxy acid, so it penetrates easily into the skin.
Glycolic acid is excellent for targeting keratinization — the process where dead skin cells build up on the surface of your skin and can result in dull, uneven skin tone or clogged pores.
2. Lactic acid
Lactic acid is derived from milk sugars and has a larger molecule than glycolic acid, which means it doesn’t penetrate as far into the superficial layers of your skin.
Because lactic acid is more gentle than glycolic acid, it’s ideal for sensitive skin types that might have difficulty tolerating other AHAs.
3. Mandelic acid
Mandelic acid comes from almonds and is unique among AHAs, as it has an antimicrobial effect that can help fight acne.
Mandelic acid also has a large molecule size, so it’s another great choice for sensitive skin types looking to get the benefits of AHAs without irritation.
How Often Should You Use an AHA?
AHA products are generally used once or twice a week, with your specific frequency depending on the strength of the product.
If you’re new to AHAs, start with a lower percentage and use it every other day to see how your skin reacts.
Once you see how your skin responds and how well it tolerates the product, you can adjust your usage schedule according to your needs.
Most people find that using an AHA once or twice a week gives them the best results.
How to Use AHAs Safely
Here are some tips for incorporating AHAs into your daily skincare regimen:
1. Use a product with an AHA concentration of 8 to 10 percent.
2. Apply the product once a day, ideally in the evening.
3. Apply the product at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and make sure the dispenser keeps out light and air, which can spoil its effectiveness.
4. It’s important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day if you use AHAs. Reapply with this sunscreen every two hours when outside during daylight hours, even on cloudy days.
5. Your skin may experience mild redness or irritation when you first use an AHA product, but this should fade over time as you become accustomed to the new ingredient in your skincare regimen.
6. If you develop itchiness, hives, or swelling from using AHAs, discontinue use and seek medical attention immediately, as these are signs of allergic reaction to the product’s ingredients or other irritants that may be present in it (such as dyes or perfumes).
Benefits of AHAs for the skin
AHAs are often hailed as miracle skincare ingredients. Here’s why:
1. Reduce signs of aging
AHAs can penetrate your skin to loosen and remove the dead skin cells on the surface that contribute to signs of aging.
Once removed, new skin is revealed that looks and feels smoother, with a more even tone.
AHAs also help stimulate collagen production, which helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
This rejuvenated look is what makes AHAs so popular as an anti-aging ingredient.
2. Exfoliate skin
AHAs exfoliate the surface of your skin by breaking down the glue that holds dead skin cells together.
This reveals a smoother complexion and can reduce the appearance of pores and hyperpigmentation.
They also encourage cell turnover, helping to fade dark spots and acne scars while encouraging new cell growth.
3. Promotes cell regeneration
As we age the cell turnover in our body slows down. By using AHAs we can promote healthier skin by encouraging cell turnover.
4. Boost collagen production
Collagen is a protein that helps with the elasticity of our skin, which decreases as you age.
The increase in collagen production is one of the main reasons I use AHAs as it’s been proven to help with fine lines and wrinkles.
5. Diminish wrinkles and fine lines
Since AHAs boost collagen production, it reduces fine lines and wrinkles when used long-term.
It can also help reduce the appearance of scars because it promotes the production of new skin cells which result in a smoother complexion and even tone.
We hope this article has shed some light on what AHAs are, what they do, and how to use them.