In our daily lives, we come across many acronyms. Many, such as NHS, BT, BA and BBC are all fairly obvious. We know what they are (even if we don’t always know exactly what they stand for) and where we are with them, the familiar British institutions that they are.
But others are more complicated. Take AHA for example, an acronym often used as an abbreviation for beauty products and seen on the packaging of many skincare solutions.
What Does AHA Mean?
AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid - which, for most of us, doesn’t really help our understanding of what AHAs are or what they’re for.
Ever on the quest to simplify skin care and how to best manage our skin (especially if it’s stressed out, acne prone or a little bit contrary), here’s the Sönd lowdown on what AHAs are, how they can benefit the skin and how best to use them…
AHA and Skin: What Are Alpha Hydroxy Acids?
AHAs are a type of acid that can be plant or animal derived. They're normally plant derived, (but if you avoid animal products, it's alway best to check the label) from fruits, which is why they're commonly referred to as ‘fruit acids’.
But don’t let the word ‘acid’ alarm you, they’re not strong acids of the type you might find in a chemistry lab. These kinds of acids are perfectly suited for use on the skin.
What are AHA Products Used For?
AHAs have various uses in skincare, but the main one is to exfoliate the skin. They’re unlike mechanical exfoliants such as loofahs and facial brushes that manually remove dead skin cells and debris from the skin to make it feel smooth. Instead, they work in a completely different way...
How Do AHAs Work?
AHAs are a type of natural chemical exfoliant (remember, not all chemicals are nasty!) . They work by gently peeling away the very top layers of skin and taking with them, the dirt, grime, excess sebum and dead skin cells that can accumulate and cause dull, uneven skin.
What Are the Benefits of AHA Products?
The exfoliating effect of these acids makes the skin feel smoother. But not only that, AHAs have the ability to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve the brightness of the skin and even out the skin tone. This is all due to their ability to remove unwanted cellular debris and a build up of dirt from the pores, leading to a clearer, brighter complexion.
They can also be used to help prevent acne breakouts by clearing the pores of the dirt and debris that can become trapped and lead to acne spots.
There is also evidence that AHAs can even help to stimulate collagen production. Collagen is a protein that's naturally present in the skin, helping to keep it plump and youthful. As we age, collagen levels decline, leading to sagging and drooping and the development of fine lines and wrinkles. It’s thought that AHAs help collagen production by stripping away old, dead fibres of collagen, prompting the skin to produce more new collagen.
Is AHA Good for Skin?
Clearing away old skin cells helps to speed up the natural cell renewal process that our skin is continually going through. It makes way for newer, fresher skin cells to form and push to the surface, which is definitely good news for youthful, healthy looking skin.
Plus, the added benefits of skin brightening, collagen production and anti-ageing mean that these unassuming acids can most certainly improve skin tone, texture and appearance and tackle specific skin concerns.
Types of AHA: Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid
The most well known AHAs are glycolic acid which is derived from sugar cane and lactic acid which is derived from cow’s milk sugars. (Therefore lactic acid is an example of an animal derived product and it may help you decide whether to chose glycolic or lactic acid - they both work in the same way.)
Other less well known, but equally as effective AHAs include citric acid derived from citrus fruits, malic acid derived from apples and pears and tartaric acid derived from grapes. Mandelic acid is another AHA, derived from bitter almonds.
Experiment with different products to find the right AHA for your skin texture and type.
AHA in Skin Care Products
AHAs are found in all types of skin care products, from washes and cleansers, to toners, face masks, serums and moisturisers. These tend to contain low concentrations of AHAs (around 4%) that are safe to use at home and may be listed as AHAs, alpha hydroxy acids or fruit acids. They may also be listed as their actual names, such as glycolic acid or lactic acid.
They're also available as targeted serums that contain higher concentrations of active ingredients that penetrate the skin deep into the lower layers.
In salons and skin care institutions, AHAs are often found in stronger concentrations in products such as ‘chemical face peels’. These should only ever be used by trained skin care therapists and give a deeper exfoliating effect.
How do I use AHAs?
If you’re new to AHAs or exfoliating, then it’s best to use any products containing AHAs with caution to begin with. This is because they can cause mild irritation, especially in sensitive skin types.
You should follow the instructions given on each product to get the best from your AHAs. If you find that your skin feels red or irritated, then reduce how often you’re using products containing AHAs.
Is it OK to Use AHA Every Day?
Depending on your skin type, most AHA products designed for use at home can be used every day. Even those with sensitive skin can benefit, just use them sparingly once or twice a week and build up gradually. Always start on a lower concentration, regardless of your skin type, to allow to skin to get used to them.
Chemical peel products that contain higher concentrations should only be used once or twice a week.
Where Will I find AHA Skin Care Products?
Many skin care brands now have products in their range that contain AHAs. They're widely available online and in shops and beauty salons.
When Should You Use an AHA?
Cleansers, toners an moisturisers that contain fruit acids can be used in the morning and evening. Peels and masks are best used in the evening to avoid your skin being exposed to the sun too soon after using them.
Do AHAs Make the Skin Sensitive to the Sun?
Yes, AHAs can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. This means that they can make the skin more likely to burn, so you should take care to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun's rays when using them. Use them as part of your night time routine only, if you know your face will be exposed to the sun all day.
What Are the Differences Between AHAs and BHAs?
When you’re looking at skin care products, you may notice another acronym - BHAs. BHAs, or beta hydroxy acids, are similar to AHAs in that they’re a type of chemical exfoliant for the skin. But they work in a slightly different way.
AHAs are a water based acid, usually derived from fruit sugars, and work on the surface of your skin to remove the top layer of dead skin. BHAs on the other hand are oil based and have the ability to work deeper into the layers of the skin.
They're both marketed as safe for all skin types, including mature skin. However, BHAs are better suited to oily and acne-prone skin that might suffer more with spots, blocked pores and visible, enlarged pores. They’re also gentler on inflamed skin, such as skin suffering with rosacea and redness.
They both work to remove dead skin cells and excess sebum by exfoliating the skin. But as AHAs work on the surface of the skin, they're best at reducing mild hyperpigmentation such as age spots, evening out the skin tone and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. BHAs on the other hand are better suited to managing oily skin and acne.
Types of Beta Hydroxy Acid: Salicylic Acid
The most well known BHA is salicylic acid. Like with AHAs, BHAs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, and therefore you should take precautions to protect your skin during the day.
Does Salicylic Acid Contain AHA or BHA?
Salicylic acid is a type of beta hydroxy acid and products containing it are designed to take away a layer of your skin to reveal the more even, fresh skin below.
Can I Combine AHA and BHA Products in My Daily Skincare Routine?
It's best not to use a combination of AHA and BHA at the same time as they both have an exfoliating action, and it could lead to irritated, dry skin.
If you'd like to use both, use one in your morning routine and one in the evening, or use them on different days.
AHA Skincare Products Q&A
Here's some quick fire answers to the questions you may have regarding alpha hydroxy acids...
Is AHA the Same as Hyaluronic Acid?
No, hyaluronic acid is a skin hydrator that helps the skin retain moisture and doesn't have an exfoliating effect.
Does AHA Make Your Skin Glow?
Yes! Removing the top layer of dead skin cells will reveal healthy skin that glows!
Do AHAs Cause Purging?
Skin purging is caused by products that speed up the skin cell renewal process. It encourages new skin cells to push to the surface of the skin sooner than they would normally (which is around 30 days), bringing with them, deep seated grime, bacteria and sebum.
Therefore, it can cause the skin to appear worse for a while whilst the skin clears itself, which may cause spots and breakouts in the process. AHAs can cause skin purging but stick with them as within around a month, you should be reaping the rewards, post-purge.
Can AHA Remove Acne Scars?
Since AHAs remove the top layers of skin, products containing glycolic acid are used in skin peels that have the potential to improve light acne scarring. Salicylic acid is thought to be slightly better at removing light acne scars.
Medium and severe acne scars would need to be treated by a professional using much stronger medical type products, and the results can be mixed.
What Are the Side Effects of AHAs?
Using too much AHA at once or using a product that's too strong for your skin can cause itching, redness, dryness and burning. So always start low and slow.
What Are the Best AHA Products: Which Acid Should You Choose?
When it comes to which acid is best, it very much depends on your skin type. The right AHA or BHA for you will also depend on what you want to gain from it. They all slough away dead skin cells but glycolic acid tends to be gentler on the skin than the common BHA salicylic acid, which might be better for you if you have sensitive skin or inflamed skin caused by eczema.
That said, salicylic acid is the most common fruit acid for normal to oily skin, and we hope we've given you enough information on the differences between AHA and BHA to make your own choice.
Our Sönd Deep Hydration Serum contains the AHA citric acid in a gentle plant based serum made without harsh ingredients such as mineral oils and parabens. So why not give it a try!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.