POSTED: 29 May 2023

The AHA Moment: Unpacking the Power of Alpha Hydroxy Acids

When it comes to skincare, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) have gained a lot of popularity in recent years. These powerful transformative substances, are lauded for their exfoliating abilities and the extensive range of skin benefits they offer. Let’s take a closer look at what are AHAs, how they work and separate myth from fact. 

Understanding Alpha Hydroxy Acids

AHAs are a group of naturally-occurring acids that are derived from various sources including fruits, milk, and sugarcane. They work by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, allowing them to be easily sloughed off. This exfoliating action helps to improve the texture and tone of the skin, leaving it looking smoother, more evenly toned and radiant.

AHAs: The Anti-Aging Arsenal

One of the key benefits of AHAs is their ability to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. As we age, our skin’s natural ability to shed dead skin cells slows down, leading to a build-up of these cells on the surface of the skin. This can make the skin look dull and rough, and can also contribute to the formation of lines and wrinkles. By accelerating the removal of these dead skin cells, AHAs can help to smooth out the skin and improve its overall appearance.

Skin Tone and Texture Transformation

AHAs are also effective at improving the tone and texture of the skin. When used regularly, they can help to reduce the appearance of uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation, such as age spots and sun spots. This is because AHAs help to promote the growth of new, healthy skin cells, which can improve the overall tone and texture of the skin.

Boosting Skin Health with Alpha Hydroxy Acids

In addition to improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, AHAs can also help to improve the overall health of the skin. They have been shown to stimulate collagen production, which is the protein that gives the skin its elasticity and structure. By increasing collagen production, AHAs can help to improve the skin’s elasticity and reduce the appearance of thin sagging skin.

Addressing Skin Conditions

AHAs are also effective at treating a range of skin conditions, including acne, rosacea, and melasma. AHAs are often used in the treatment of acne because they help smooth texture and even out skin tone which is needed in managing the post inflammatory hyperpigmentation and scarring that occurs in acne. AHA are however not oil soluble and so beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are used instead to help clear pores and regulate oil production in patients with active acne. AHAs can also be effective at reducing the redness and inflammation associated with rosacea, and help to lighten the dark patches of skin associated with hereditary hyperpigementation or that caused by sun damage (melasma).

Finding AHAs in Skincare Products

AHAs are available in a range of skincare products, including cleansers, toners, serums, and moisturisers. They can be found in both over-the-counter and prescription-strength products. Given the amount of choice in terms of types of AHAs, strengths and formulations, it’s a good idea to consult with a skincare professional before using AHAs to ensure that you’re using the right strength and type for your specific concerns and aims.

The Different Types of AHAs and Their Benefits

When it comes to AHAs, you’re spoilt for choice! There are many different types of AHAs, each with unique characteristics and benefits. Glycolic acid, derived from sugarcane, is probably the most famous and widely available AHA. It has the smallest molecular size among AHAs, allowing it to penetrate the skin deeply and swiftly, making it a powerful tool for treating fine lines, texture, and dullness. It does however also make it more irritating and there is a higher risk of skin damage if too high a concentration is used. Lactic acid, sourced from milk, is on the other hand milder and so is more suitable for sensitive skin. It helps improve skin texture and smoothness as well as reduce hyperpigmentation. Mandelic acid, derived from bitter almonds, is larger in size, which means it doesn’t penetrate as deeply and is less likely to cause irritation. This makes it a great option for those with sensitive skin, skin of colour or rosacea. Other options include Citric acid (made from citrus fruits) which works as an antioxidant and helps neutralise damaging free radicals and Malic and tartaric acids, sourced from fruits like apples and grapes. All three are generally used to supplement more active AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid to boost their efficacy. The type of AHA that is best for you depends on your specific skin needs, skin type and sensitivity.

Potential Side Effects of Alpha Hydroxy Acids

AHAs can cause some side effects, including dryness, redness, and irritation. These side effects are generally mild and can be managed by using a moisturiser and avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun. It’s also important to use sunscreen when using AHAs, as they can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. People with sensitive skin and skin of colour need to be particularly careful when using AHAs (especially smaller ones like glycolic acid which penetrates deeper into the skin). This is because skin irritation can occur and as a result you may end up with minor burns and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

The Power of AHAs in Skincare

AHAs are a powerful tool in skincare, providing a range of benefits for the skin. They can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve the tone and texture of the skin, and help to treat a range of skin conditions. With proper use and careful consideration of potential side effects, AHAs can be a valuable addition to any skincare routine.

If you are interested in personalised skincare products then book a virtual consultation with City Skin Clinic where we can guide you towards the most suitable products for you. Contact us today to schedule your consultation and take the first step towards great skin.


Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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