Know your A, B and C



Are you getting confused about AHA, BHA and the likes? How about we unpack this a bit for you?


AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and BHA for Beta Hydroxy Acid and you can find them in a lot of cosmetic products (cleanser, moisturiser, peels, scrubs, masks etc.). Their common modality is that they exfoliate and remove dry skin cells. They are helpful in reducing skin irritation and inflammation (e.g. seen in rosacea), evening-out of skin tone and improvement of skin texture. A variety of these products are active on cleansing out pores and therefore are beneficial in preventing acne outbreaks.


AHAs


AHAs are water-soluble acids derived from sugary fruits. They leave the skin with a smoother texture as they remove dry superficial cells. AHAs are a great way to address fine lines, uneven skin tone, mild hyper-pigmentation and enlarged pores. They are traditionally considered safe for most skin types but might still require cautious introduction in case you have sensitive skin to avoid irritation and additional dryness.


AHA’s come in different strengths and applications so it is important to work with your skin in finding out which one is well tolerated by you. We would recommend to not aim for a concentration of acids higher than 15% to be on the safe side. As the use of AHA will remove skin cells by exfoliation, and therefore your skin will be more sensitive to UV rays, it is a must to use daily facial sunscreen when using AHAs.


There are a range of different AHAs:



Glycolic Acid

The classic AHA: derived from sugar cane and a great all-rounder! It is found in a broad range of AHA products and is the go-to formulation to help and prevent inflammatory skin break outs (e.g. acne).




Lactic Acid

As the name indicates, this one is extracted from the enzyme lactose in milk. It has marked exfoliation capacity and is a great contributor to achieving anti-ageing effects.








Citric Acid

You guessed it: this product is based on citrus fruit extracts. You can mainly find citric acid in serums or toners and it is a great way to level out your skin’s pH before applying moisturiser. It supports the effects of sunscreen and helps to smoothen out uneven skin areas.






Mandelic Acid

Just follow the name! Yes, this one is based on almond extract and is wonderful in combination with other AHAs. As its molecules are larger compared to other products, it can help reducing pore size and texture or the skin.






Tartaric Acid

And another fruit derived AHA, this time from grapes! Tartaric acid is usually part of combination products aiming to alleviate inflammation and sun damage.









Malic Acid

Not terribly effective as a solo ingredient, this one is extracted from apple acids and is usually added to enhance potency of other acids as it can be seen as a cross-over between AHA and BHA.





BHAs


BHAs are oil-soluble, and they can penetrate deeper into the skin. They are more effective in removing not only dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin but also remove oily sebum as they are effective down to hair follicles. They are of benefit for people with combination to oily skin or who are troubled by acne or recurrent rosacea bouts. BHAs are more potent in their action compared to AHAs and therefore need a slow introduction as they can cause marked irritation and dryness otherwise. As with AHA’s, the use of BHAs will result in your skin being more sensitive to the sun so adding daily facial sunscreen is a must!



The most common BHA is Salicylic Acid. It is well known as part of most acne care regimes and in the treatment of keratotic (build up of very dry skin) lesions and inflammatory conditions (e.g. rosacea).


It’s a great approach to use AHAs and BHAs in combination but it’s important to find out the right formulation and dose to avoid skin irritation and worsening of dryness or inflammation to the skin. Never use them layered on top of each other, instead aim for e.g. using AHA products in your morning skin care and BHA over night. There are products on the marked combining them in reduced dose, therefore making it way more tolerable. In case you have a combination of skin types to your face, you could also make a tailored approach by treating oily parts with BHA and dry parts mainly with AHA.


In summary


AHAs and BHAs both have great exfoliation modality.

AHAs are excellent for addressing dry skin and aiming for anti-ageing effects through improving skin texture and reducing superficial hyperpigmentation.

BHAs might give you better effects in controlling skin irritation and inflammatory conditions like acne and rosacea.

To avoid overtreatment and adverse reactions it is important to get a good idea of what you skin really needs and to find the right strength and combination to establish a great skin care regime.


It’s as easy as A, B, C…. and don’t forget your sun screen!