We’ve talked about the wonders of chemical exfoliation in our previous blogpost. Chemical exfoliators make use of acids to dissolve the glue that binds skin cells together, making it easier to shed. However, with so many names being thrown around, what’s the difference between all the skincare acids?
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AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)
AHA are water soluble, and works on the skin’s uppermost layers. It is naturally derived from fruit and plant extracts. While it’s great for all skin types, those with drier skin may find it beneficial due to its hydrating properties. It works to give skin a smoother look, reducing sun damage and hyperpigmentation.
Glycolic acid is the most commonly available form of AHA found in the market. It is derived from sugarcane. Due to its small molecule size, it is easily absorbed by the skin and works it magic by smoothening it. However, those with sensitive skin may find it irritating.
A gentler sibling to glycolic acid, lactic acid is derived from sour milk. It is great for those with dry skin as it draws moisture into the skin, while also offering the same benefits of an AHA. It has a larger molecule size, which means that while it takes longer to work, it is also gentler on the skin.
Mandelic acid is a popular AHA found in Asian beauty products and comes from bitter almonds. It is rich in antioxidants. Ideal for more sensitive skin types or acne-prone skin, its anti-inflammatory effect will help soothe angry skin. Just like lactic acid, it is also gentle and is unlikely to irritate skin.
BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)
Unlike AHA, BHA is oil soluble, so it can penetrate into skin’s deeper layers. Because of this, BHA is ideal for people with oilier skin and clogged pores. BHAs can also calm down inflammation and minimise the appearance of enlarged pores.
Salicylic Acid is a common skincare ingredient found across a variety of products, especially acne treatments. Due to its oil soluble nature, it is able to dive deep into the pores and dissolve excess sebum.
Willow bark extract is a common naturally-derived salicylic acid. It contains salicylates — also known as the salt or esters of salicylic acid. These gentler forms of salicylic acid offer exfoliation properties without the irritation. Wintergreen and sweet birch bark extract are also popular natural plants used in BHA products.
PHA (Poly Hydroxy Acid)
A recent introduction to the skincare acid scene is PHA — considered as the next generation of AHA. Similar to AHAs, PHAs work on exfoliating the uppermost layers of skin to smooth out skin texture. But unlike AHAs, PHAs have larger molecular sizes, which makes them gentle and wonderful alternatives for those who can’t tolerate regular AHAs. This includes people with dry and sensitive skin types that are easily irritated.
Using Skincare Acids in Your Routine
If you’ve never used skincare acids before, you may want to be careful about diving straight in! As a general rule of thumb, 5% AHA is a good percentage to start, while for salicylic acid, you should hover around 0.5%–1% for salicylic acid. While higher may be better, you want to accustom your skin to using chemical exfoliants before upping the dosage. Start by using it once a week, to every alternate day, till finally incorporating it into your daily routine. Once you are a habitual user of skincare acids, you may up the percentages.
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