Skincare has a number of staple ingredients that have been used for years. We know how these work and what we can do with them without compromising how effective they are. Vitamin C, for instance, is one of the ingredients the skin care industry is most familiar with. Other skin-friendly vitamins are similarly tested ingredients. However, hydroxy acids are one of the industry’s favorite sets of ingredients. They’re good for cleansers, exfoliants, and other products depending on their exact formulation. This classification of acids includes ones you’re assuredly used in a product before. Glycolic and citric acid are two of the most common alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) used in skincare while salicylic acid is the only commonly used beta hydroxy acid. They share benefits, but this can make it hard to determine which you need to use. We’ll be looking into them in detail to help you figure out just that.
As skin-friendly acids, hydroxy acids have been used for years to help the skin. Cleansers are one of the most frequent products that they get used in though. The acids are good at dissolving grime and dead skin cells caught in the natural oils of your skin. This cleans your skin while helping to ensure your pores remain clear to maintain your skin’s overall health. Additionally, they provide an oil control benefit by dissolving the natural oils in sufficient concentrations. You’ve probably seen AHAs or salicylic acid listed on oil control or acne products for just this reason. Stronger formulations are also good for providing a level of chemical exfoliation. They can eat through the upper layers of dead skin actually still on the body to help reveal the healthier, younger skin below. You need to be careful when using them in exfoliating products due to the potential strength though. This is where the differences between the two kinds of hydroxy acids show up.
Simply put, AHAs are the weaker form of acid. They are gentle enough for wide use ranging from normal to only slightly sensitive skin. They’re capable of providing just enough of the available benefits without moving too quickly towards the skin. As a result, you frequently see these in products labeled “gentle” in one concentration or another. It isn’t that they are less effective at what they do, but they are easier to control fully unlike salicylic acids. This doesn’t remove all the problems though. AHAs are still acids and as a result using even these on sensitive skin can cause problems such as redness and damage. The reverse of this is also true. They are not enough to cut through the natural oils produced by oily skin. You won’t be getting the right care only using AHAs and as a result, you’ll need to try products containing salicylic acid.
Salicylic acid is one of the most frequent ingredients in acne fighting and oil control products for a reason. The more potent acid is easily able to work its way through an abundance of oils to help remove them from the skin while providing an exfoliating effect. The strength of the acid also means that it is capable of providing a slight antimicrobial effect as well. This makes it ideal for an acne fighting product as it treats the problem on multiple levels. Salicylic acid is often the only hydroxy acid strong enough to provide proper care once a breakout has begun for many people. However, it is also ideal for routine care for people with oily skin as it provides sufficient oil control, unlike AHAs. Salicylic acid should never be used on sensitive skin through as it is likely it will cause an immediate and potentially lasting irritation until the skin recovers.
The question of whether to use an AHA or salicylic acid really comes down to your skin type. AHAs are more universally usable, but salicylic acid, the usual beta hydroxy acid in skincare, is both potent enough and easy enough to use that it makes a good choice when fighting breakouts. Consider your skin type or types and you should be able to determine which of these is best for your skin.