AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs are powerful hydroxy acids. Though “acid” might seem abrasive, these types of acids are derived from natural sources, and deliver transformative benefits to your skin by exfoliating and resurfacing to reveal healthy, happy, radiant skin—but each of them work differently. Now that we’ve just released our newest Overnight Sensation 10% AHA + BHA Gentle Resurfacing Peel, we wanted to do a little deep dive into how each of these acids can benefit your skin.
For some, a combination of multiple acids might be the most effective, but to determine that, it’s best to know how each of these acids perform on their own to target dullness, hyperpigmentation/dark spots, fine lines, uneven/rough texture, oily skin, acne-prone skin and more.
What are AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)?
AHAs are derived from sweet sources like fruit and sugar. The AHAs most prevalent in skincare are glycolic acid (which comes from sugar cane), lactic acid (which comes from lactose as well as vegan versions), and mandelic acid (which comes from almonds). AHAs are water-soluble, which means they work on the uppermost layers of the skin to exfoliate away dead skin cells.
How AHA’s Help the Skin
Though our skin naturally sheds dead cells, this process gets slower as we get older, but AHAs help expedite that process so wrinkles fade we can see younger, smoother skin sooner. Without that layer of dead skin cells, hydration from the environment and your skincare products is able to be more readily absorbed, so people with dry and dehydrated skin would definitely benefit from adding AHAs to their routine. Because of their ability to lift up dead skin cells, AHAs—specifically glycolic acid—can prevent multiple types of acne.
Glycolic acid can be very potent and should be introduced to your routine gradually. If you have sensitive skin, mandelic acid is a larger molecule, meaning it doesn’t get as deep into the skin, yet still offers effective antimicrobial properties to protect against acne as well as increasing skin elasticity. Similarly, lactic acid does not get as deep into the skin as glycolic acid, so it’s a great choice for sensitive skin types. In addition, lactic acid helps reduce the appearance of acne scarring by brightening discoloration and dark spots while rejuvenating sun-damaged skin.
Products that Deliver AHAs Best:
- Night serums and gentle resurfacing peels with AHAs as well as fruit enzymes like our Overnight Sensation 10% AHA + BHA Gentle Resurfacing Peel™.
- Brightening serums with lower amounts of AHAs help to chemically exfoliate your skin with the added benefit of deep hydration.
- Exfoliating cleansers with AHAs exfoliate the skin 2 ways for even brighter, smoother skin.
- Toners formulated with AHAs in the form of fruit enzymes like our Moisture Flash Toner™.
- Gentle hydrating sleep masks with vegan lactic acid and glycolic acid like our Overnight Sensation Brightening Sleep Mask™.
What are BHA’s (Beta Hydroxy Acids)?
You’re probably familiar with the most common BHA: salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is naturally derived from willow bark and has anti-inflammatory properties that make it really effective for treating acne. BHA’s are oil-soluble so they can deeply penetrate the skin and work below the surface.
How BHA’s Help the Skin
BHA’s are an oily face’s best friend. Scientists call BHA’s “lipophilic,” which literally means oil-loving, so when you apply a BHA to excess oil, it shows its love by clinging to it and taking it away from your face. Salicylic acid also works wonders with unclogging pores and shrinking the appearance of larger pores. This capability helps diminish and prevent acne, whiteheads and blackheads.
BHAs also encourage faster cell turnover in the skin to exfoliate away age spots, sun spots and even skin tone. Salicylic acid is related to acetylsalicylic acid—better known as aspirin—which means it has soothing anti inflammatory qualities that make it a gentler choice for skin than a scrub or a brush. A good thing to remember is that AHAs and BHAs will increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so make sure you’re continuing to use SPF after applying these exfoliants.
Products that Deliver BHAs Best:
- At-home resurfacing treatments with salicylic acid like our Overnight Sensation 10% AHA + BHA Gentle Resurfacing Peel™.
- Acne wipes and pads that come pre-soaked in a solution with salicylic acid to help clarify pores and control oil/sebum production.
- Acne spot treatments that have higher levels of BHAs to target cystic acne, kill bacteria, reduce redness/swelling and reduce sebum production.
- Toners to open up the pores to rapidly absorb + benefit from your moisturizer. Our Moisture Flash Toner™ has .5% salicylic acid.
What are PHA’s? (Polyhydroxy Acids)
The up-and-coming PHAs come from milk sugars and glucose. They are similar to AHAs and BHAs in that they whisk away dead skin cells, but work even further above the surface for a lighter touch. This makes PHAs a good choice for someone with sensitive skin who wants to test how their skin will react to exfoliating acids.
How PHA’s Help the Skin
PHA’s attract moisture, so they’re great to apply for a healthy, hydrated glow, as well as treating dry, itchy patches on the skin like those seen with eczema or atopic rosacea. PHA’s superpower lies in being able to fight the process of the skin’s breakdown of collagen and elastin known as glycation. Additionally, PHAs are full of antioxidants that protect the skin against damaging free radicals. All of this lessens the appearance of aging, and plumps your skin with smoothing hydration. More than AHAs and BHAs, PHAs are reparative for the skin, and ideal for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
Products that Deliver PHAs Best:
- Night masks and resurfacing treatments like our Overnight Sensation 10% AHA + BHA Gentle Resurfacing Peel use a gentle amount of PHAs to allow for a longer treatment time on your skin. You’ll see glowing results by morning without irritation or hassle!
- Serums infused with PHAs that keep your skin looking bright all day.
- Exfoliating cleansers that utilize both physical and chemical exfoliants.
So, What’s Right For My Skin?
All of these exfoliating acids bring something valuable to enhance your skin. AHAs can help bring hydration to dry skin and reduce the appearance of dark spots, BHAs help control oil to prevent acne, and PHAs fight glycation in a sensitive way to diminish the effects of aging. Together, a mix of all three can help ensure radiant and smooth skin while working to prevent breakouts. Make sure you check back soon, as we’ll be rolling out products that combine all of these acids for transformative results.