The best ingredients for our skin are the ones that are naturally derived from the earth itself. In fact, some of the finest, most powerful exfoliants are plant derivatives. Alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids are commonly used in skin care products and spa treatments as a means to resurface the skin in order to reveal a fresher, more youthful-looking complexion. As consumers, we should never underestimate the power of hydroxy acids as they can truly do wonders for the skin. Read further to get a more in-depth look at some specific hydroxy acids and the role each plays in skin care.
The Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
Glycolic Acid is derived from sugar cane. It is widely used in skin care products and spa treatments—namely chemical peels—to deeply exfoliate the skin, thereby increasing cellular turnover. It addresses fine lines, wrinkles, oily skin, acneic skin and hyperpigmentation. When used in chemical peels, it can be available in concentrations from 20% to 60%. In skin care products, it is typically used in strengths of two to ten percent. Glycolic Acid has a small molecular structure, which enhances its penetrable abilities and helps to retexturize the skin when used regularly.
Lactic Acid is derived from sour milk. It is a gentler AHA and is heralded for its hydrating, calming and softening abilities. Due to its soothing properties, Lactic Acid is an ideal AHA for sensitive skin types.
Malic Acid is derived from apples. Its role is similar to Glycolic Acid: it promotes an even skin tone, helps tighten pores, helps reduce congestion and addresses hyperpigmentation.
Tartaric Acid is derived from grapes. It helps to improve the skin’s texture and tone.
Derived from citrus fruits, Citric Acid helps boost collagen production in the skin and also has brightening properties to help address hyperpigmentation.
Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)
There is basically only one beta hydroxy acid—Salicylic Acid. Derived from the willow tree bark, it is the go-to acid to help balance oily, congested skin. Salicylic Acid is a natural anti-inflammatory; sensitive skin types can handle it. It is one of the most commonly used ingredients for acne-prone, problematic skin.
When used in chemical peels, it is typically available in 20-30% concentrations. Since hydroxy acids may cause peeling of the skin—especially Salicylic Acid—it is important to follow up with moisturizer to prevent peeling and to help soothe the skin. If you are specifically using Salicylic Acid to help clear up acne, be sure to use an oil-free moisturizer.
Hydroxy acids should not be used too frequently; otherwise the protective lipid barrier is highly compromised. Frequency of usage depends on the strength of the acid. For instance, a skin care product containing two percent acid is generally ok to use a few times a week. A higher concentration, on the other hand, such as a 30% acid peel, is typically best used every four to six weeks. However, check first with a reputable esthetician or dermatologist. Regardless of the strength of acid you’re using, make sure to always apply an oil free moisturizer with SPF during the day since AHAs increase photosensitivity.