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What Does AHA Mean in Skin Care?

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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 seen on the packaging for skin care products. 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…

What are AHAs?

AHAs are atype of acid that can be plant or animal derived (although they’re normally plant derived and can also be known 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 AHAs used for on the skin? 

AHAs have various benefits for the skin, but the main one is exfoliation. 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, AHAs are a type of natural chemical (not all chemicals are nasty!) exfoliant. They work by gentlypeeling away the very top layers of skin and taking with it the dirt, grime, excess sebum and dead skin cells that can accumulate and cause the skin to look dull and uneven. 

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, which is good news for youthful, healthy looking skin. 

This exfoliating effect makes theskin 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 helpprevent acne breakoutsby 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 tostimulate collagen production. Collagen is a protein that naturally occurs 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. 

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. 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. 

All 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 toprotect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun's rays

What’s the difference 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 the skin. BHAs on the other hand are oil based and have the ability to work deeper into the layers of the skin. 

BHAs are better suited to oilier skin types that might suffer with spots, blocked pores and visible, enlarged pores. They’re also gentler on inflamed skin, such as skin suffering with rosacea and redness. 

The most well known BHAs aresalicylic acid and beta hydroxy acid. 

Like with AHAs, BHAs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, and therefore you should take precautions to protect your skin from the sun. 

Where will I find AHA 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. 

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. 

Our SöndStrength Training 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! 


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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