There are a lot of ingredients in most of our skincare products. You might make a habit of looking at the ingredients lists routinely to keep an eye out for ingredients you want to avoid, but for most of us, the product is a black box. We’re generally buying them for advertised active ingredients rather than anything else. The unfortunate fact that so many of us don’t know what they are beyond “good” has lead to a comparatively ill-informed public. You need to know what things do and how they work if you’re going to make informed choices, after all. Fortunately, this is relatively easy for most major skincare ingredients. We’ve used them for a long time and generally have a very clear idea of how they work and how safe they are. One of the most understood classes of ingredients are the alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). We’re going to look at these relatively common ingredients so that you can gain a better appreciation for what goes in your products.
What Are AHAs?
AHAs are a simple form of acid that is easily made and skin friendly when used in the appropriate concentrations. They’re the less potent siblings of the more potent salicylic acid, typically the only beta hydroxy acid used in skincare. AHAs are well-known for their uses in cleansers and some oil control products. As acids, they’re capable of breaking down oil and grime that builds up on the skin without requiring any physical abrasion like a scrub. That’s why they’re particularly popular among people with sensitive skin. AHAs enjoy a particularly devoted following in this area because they aren’t as rough on the skin as salicylic acid too. There are many AHAs that are hard to spot if you don’t know their names, but the most commonly used in skincare are glycolic, citric, and lactic acid. The general theme is always lower potency while still effective. It is important to note that glycolic acid is the most commonly used as it has the highest ability to penetrate the skin when compared to its peers.
What Are AHAs Good For?
As we’ve highlighted before, AHAs tend to be mostly used in cleansers though it isn’t uncommon to see them in oil control products or low potency chemical exfoliating products. Higher concentrations and potency formulas of AHAs are also used to create chemical peel formulas. In general, the overall role of AHAs is cleaning. Their acidic nature is incredibly useful for helping to mitigate the myriad of factors that can lead to unhealthy buildup forming on our skin. The variable formulas allow a product using an AHA to be gentle enough to be a cleanser or potent enough for the deep cleaning expected from a chemical peel. They are a highly effective class of ingredients that has seen ongoing use in the cosmetic industry for a long time due to their sheer usefulness. You can expect that the industry will continue to find newer and better formulas and mixtures to use going forward, but for the time being, they remain indispensable to many of our daily routines.
The Direct Benefits
The ease with which AHAs can penetrate the skin is their most prized feature. This allows them to be far more effective than a scrub and other classes of ingredients. They can sneak past clogged pores to penetrate deeper into the skin and break up the clog from inside the pores. It leads to an overall cleaner feeling after using a product and helps to encourage greater overall skin health. The fact that the right concentration of the acid is capable of similarly dissolving layers of dead skin likewise makes it invaluable in fighting back against the overall dullness of the skin and helps to minimize fine lines. When used as a peel, AHAs are particularly good for helping to fight back against larger scale wrinkles as well as helping to brighten skin discolorations. The best part is they have all the benefits you’d expect from salicylic acid without as big of a chance of irritating or drying the skin out.
Alpha hydroxy acids are a very familiar ingredient in skincare. They’ve been used long enough to the industry understands the benefits and risks of using them. Errant product formulas using them seldom go awry because of including an AHA either because of how well tested it is. So feel confident the next time you’re looking for a gentle cleanser and you see that it has glycolic acid in it. That AHA is your friend and will help you keep your skin happy.