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The lowdown on acids

21 Feb 2024
The lowdown on acids

Any skincare-nerd-in-training will tell you - one of the first things we all get fixated on is the need to exfoliate our skin. That is after we get over the fact you do it with acids (say what?) Chemical exfoliation is a fab thing for almost all skin types and issues. Acids can get you on the road to glowy, healthy skin. But what exactly are Alpha Hydroxy and Beta Hydroxy acids? How do they work? Who are they suitable for? Can you overdo it?

How do acids work?

Our skin sheds daily in a process called desquamation. Sometimes that process gets disrupted for any given reason (age, lifestyle factors, genetics, etc.). Dead skin cells can get stuck in the pores and lead to congestion and breakouts. Likewise, your skin might look dull and feel rough to the touch. Acids break and dissolve the bonds between the dead skin cells and speed up the shedding process.

The types of acids

Alpha-Hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water-soluble and work on the skin's surface to remove the layer of dead skin cells. They increase the cell turnover and even out the skin tone, refine skin texture, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and fade hyperpigmentation.

The most popular Alpha Hydroxy acids include Mandelic, Lactic, and Glycolic. The main difference between these three is the molecular size. Glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size and can penetrate deeper than other AHAs. It makes it effective but potentially irritating for some. In comparison, Mandelic acid has a larger molecular size and penetrates the skin slower. It makes it less irritating for some skin types. Likewise, it is safer to use for people with darker skin tone as it is less likely to cause pigmentation issues.

Glycolic, Lactic, and Mandelic acids are best suited for dry, more mature skin with sun damage. Furthermore, because of its unique antibacterial and antibiotic properties, Mandelic acid is suitable for adults prone to breakouts.

Beta-Hydroxy acid (BHA) or Salicylic acid is oil-soluble. It can penetrate deeper and clear oily deposits, dead skin cells, and sebum trapped in the pores. Salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent, which means it sloughs off dead skin cells. Also, it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It treats blemishes and spots and soothes the skin at the same time.

Beta-Hydroxy acid is best suited for people with oily and combination skin prone to breakouts.

The new kids on the block are Poly-Hydroxy acids (PHAs). Poly-Hydroxy acids are bigger than AHAs, slower to penetrate the skin, and less sensitising. PHAs include Gluconolactone (Gluconic Acid), Lactobionic Acid, and Galactose. Gluconic acid has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a humectant. PHAs are best suited for people with dry, dehydrated, mature skin. They can also be a good option for people who find other acids irritating.

This is by no means an extensive list - there are new acids to get excited about.

The takeaway

Do you use acids in your routine? Which is your favourite?