What are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) in skincare? How do I use them? - Skinora
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What are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) in skincare? How do I use them?



Alpha Hydroxy Acids, also known as AHAs,  are a group of natural acids derived from plant based origins.  Found it a variety of skincare products such as cleansers, toners, serums and moisturisers, they have a long list of benefits suitable for most skin types. They are mainly known as chemical exfoliants, removing dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin, to leave the skin feeling smoother as it improves the texture of skin and brightens dull skin.

Popular AHAs include:

  • Glycolic acid (derived from sugar cane)
  • Lactic acid (lactose and other carbohydrates)
  • Citric acid (derived from lemons)
  • Mandelic acid (derived from bitter almonds)
  • Malic acid (from fruits)
  • Tartaric acid (from grapes)

Most common and smallest AHA is glycolic acid. It has the ability to penetrate the skin deeper than the other AHAs due to its size leading to the biggest transformation. However you should be cautious when introducing glycolic acid into your regime as they penetrate the skin quickly and can lead to some irritation. We advise starting with a low concentration especially if you are new to it or have sensitive skin.

Benefits of AHAs for skin

Exfoliates the skin – removes dead skins cells from the outer layer of the skin leaving it fresher and firmer. The  build up of dead skin cells can leave the your complexion looking dull, this is particularly the case when the skin cell cycle slows down with age.

Brightens your skin and complexion- As the dead skin cells are removed from the skin’s surface, the new skin hiding underneath will appear brighter.

Increase collagen production- AHAs promote the production of collagen to leave the skin plump resulting in a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Improve hyperpigmentation– AHAs have a role in reducing the appearance of discoloration leading to a more even skin tone. As this ingredient promotes skin cell turnover, the new skin cells that are revealed are more even in colour as the more mature pigmented skin cells are removed.

Hydration– AHAs have great hydrating qualities and are suitable for those with dry and dehydrated skin. Lactic acid is good humectant (attracts water to skin) because it binds water easily and is commonly used for dry skin types.

Reduces blemishes/treats spots– Breakouts can occur when the pores become blocked with dead skin cells, oil (sebum) and bacteria. AHAs can unclog pores leading to fewer breakouts.

How to use It?

It depends on the concentration, your skin type and product. If you have sensitive skin, start with a low concentration. Oily and combination skin types tend to tolerate higher concentrations.

You can start by using a AHA containing serum 1-2 times a week after cleansing in the evenings. Apply a small amount to a dry face and massage well. AHA cleansers can be used more frequently as they are rinsed off. As your skin adjusts and depending on how well you can tolerate the product, you can increase the frequency of use.

Avoid using retinoids or vitamin A products at the same time of day in your routine as this can lead to more irritation.

Here are a list of popular AHA containing products you can find at Skinora.

Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense


Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Cleanser

Medik8 Balance Moisturiser and Glycolic Acid Activator

Exuviance Glycolic Polish

About the Author: Lucinda Appiah

Dr Lucinda Appiah studied Medicine and Haematology at Imperial College London from 2003-2009. She later went on to attain her postgraduate certification in Aesthetic Medicine at Queen Mary University in London with merit and trained with some of the top plastic surgeons and aesthetic medicine practitioners in the country. Dr Appiah also continues to practice as a GP and has extensive experience in treating a range of skin conditions. She has an empathetic approach to all skin concerns and has also had her own skin journey managing post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. She is passionate about working with brands that deliver results backed by science, empowering clients to explore new ingredients and grow their self confidence.

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Last update: June 22nd, 2022

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