Cosmetic Ingredients Class: Alpha Hydroxy Acids 101

Class is in session! Part of a healthy skin care journey involves understanding which cosmetic ingredients will actually help your skin.

AHA is an acronym for Alpha Hydroxy Acids, one of the best exfoliating ingredients in skincare. AHAs are water-soluble chemical exfoliants that assist in the removal of dead skin by breaking down the bonds between the cells and accelerating cell turnover. They are used in the treatment of UV damaged skin, wrinkles and mild acne resulting in brighter, healthier skin.

It is common to hear that AHAs dry the skin when in fact,  AHAs are humectant i.e. attract moisture – making them a great choice for dry skin. The culprits causing irritation or dryness could be the other ingredients in the formulation.

Common AHAs in Skincare

AHAs can be synthetic or derived from nature.Natural sources include sugarcane -glycolic acid, sour milk -lactic acid, apples –  malic acid, citrus fruits –  citric acid  and grape wine – tartaric acid.

  1. Mildly humectant, glycolic acid, has the smallest molecular size, penetrates the skin most easily making it quite popular in skincare. It is recommended for use in low concentrations of 8% to 10%if you are new to AHA products.
  2. Highly humectant, lactic acid is the second most popular AHA. It is highly recommended for sensitive skin.
  3. Moderately humectant, mandelic acid has anti microbial properties and is the best choice if you are prone to acne. Having a large molecular structure, it takes longer to work but is less irritating. It is derived from bitter almonds.

How to Include AHAs in your Skincare Routine

Being water soluble, AHAs work best on clean bare skin. Ideally, one would cleanse, pat dry, tone and air dry the skin before using the AHA. After the AHA you would apply a serum, moisturizer and sunscreen. Note that when using AHAs there is a risk of increased sun sensitivity so sunscreen is vital! It also makes more sense for your AHA product to be a leave on i.e. left on the skin like a serum instead of rinsed away like a cleanser. This will let it have more time to actually work on the skin.

It’s commonly heard that after using your AHA, wait about 20 to 30 minutes for it to sink into your skin before using your serum or moisturizer. This depends on whatever brand you’re using so just follow the instructions on the label. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to skin care.

Just like any other new skin care product, it is important to start out with a patch test. Some people are able to use AHAs every night while others use them twice or only thrice a week. It all depends on your skin, listen to it. You could start out using your AHA sparingly, once a week or every other day and once your skin can tolerate it, build up from there.

pH and Concentration of AHA products

The pH and concentration of AHA products will make or break a product. In regard to pH, in order to exfoliate, AHA products must be at a pH between 3 and 4. If the pH is below 3, the product is too acidic, and you’ll run the risk of chemical burns, if the pH is higher than 4, it just won’t work.

According to the Beauty Brains, AHA`s are safe at concentrations of up to 10% for over the counter consumer products. For products used by trained cosmetologists, the concentration can be as high as 20 to 30%, and for doctors it is 50 to 70%.

Before you make any AHA product purchase, make sure to discover the pH and concentration from the manufacturer.

Try AHAs in…

wolfandmoroko cosmetics ingredients class alpha hydroxy acids

  1. Paula’s Choice 8% AHA gel
  2. COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid


Please note that I can’t guarantee that all of the make-up and skincare products I recommend will suit you. Everyone’s skin is different and it’s possible to be allergic to anything. Wherever possible, patch test your products before purchasing.

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