POSTED: 5 Jun 2023

Understanding Polyhydroxy Acid: Guide to PHAs in Skincare

In the realm of skincare, Polyhydroxy acid (PHA) is quickly emerging as a star player. This is a type of alpha hydroxy acid but larger in size and less irritating to the skin than traditional AHAs. PHAs are considered a gentler cousin of glycolic acid and lactic acid and are also more effective at hydrating the skin. Their skin transforming benefits and lower tendency to irritate or dry the skin has quickly made PHAs a sought-after skincare ingredient. In this post we dive deeper into how PHAs work, who they’re best for and how to get the best out of them in your skincare routine.

Gentle Exfoliation without the Irritation

One primary advantage of PHAs is their ability to exfoliate the skin without causing irritation. This is in sharp contrast with the often harsh and drying characteristics of traditional AHAs. PHAs gently lift away dead skin cells and encourage cell turnover without triggering redness or irritation. This makes them an excellent choice for those with dry or sensitive skin or those who want to use them alongside other active skincare such as Tretinoin or its even stronger counterpart Tazarotene without irritating the skin.

Hydration and Antioxidant Benefits of PHAs

In addition to their gentle exfoliating capabilities, PHAs offer the additional benefit of hydration. They possess a unique capacity to draw in and hold moisture within the skin, thus ensuring the skin remains soft and supple. This is especially useful if you have dry or ageing skin. The humectant properties of PHAs allows them to replenish lost moisture and enhance the overall appearance of your skin.

PHAs also have antioxidant properties. This means they serve as a protective shield for the skin against free radicals and environmental stressors. These free radicals, or unstable molecules, can inflict harm on skin cells and cause fine lines, wrinkles and other signs of aging. PHAs, neutralise these free radicals, thus helping thwart and repair skin damage.

PHAs for Improving Dark Spots and Uneven Skin Tone

Another benefit of Polyhydroxy acid is its ability to improve the appearance of dark spots and uneven skin tone. PHAs can lighten and brighten the skin, making them a popular choice if you’re grappling with hyperpigmentation or uneven skin tone. Moreover, they can also enhance the overall texture and smoothness of the skin. This is great for those with scarring, ageing or dry skin who want a smoother and more radiant complexion.

Polyhydroxy Acid in Skincare

When it comes to selecting PHAs, you’re actually spoilt for choice! Polyhydroxy acid is available in a variety of skincare products, including cleansers, toners, moisturisers, and serums. They can be used alone or in combination with other ingredients, such as retinoids, vitamin C, and peptides. The main types of PHA in skincare are:

  • Gluconolactone: this is a PHA that is derived from sugar. It is a gentle exfoliant that can help to improve the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, and uneven skin tone. Gluconolactone is also a humectant, meaning it helps attract water to the skin and keep it hydrated.
  • Lactobionic acid: this PHA is derived from milk. It is a gentle exfoliant that is similar to gluconolactone in its properties. Lactobionic acid is also a humectant and can help to improve the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, and uneven skin tone.
  • Galactose: this PHA is derived from sugar and is less commonly used than gluconolactone and lactobionic acid. Galactose is a gentle exfoliant and can help to improve the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, and uneven skin tone. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to improve the appearance of acne, redness, and irritation.

Which Polyhydroxy Acid You Should Choose

As a general rule, Gluconolactone is a good option for people with dry skin because it is a better humectant. If you have sensitive skin, Lactobionic acid is the best option. It is a gentle exfoliant that is less irritating than other PHAs. For those with acne-prone skin, Gluconolactone, lactobionic acid and Galactose are all helpful.They exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin cells. This can help to unclog pores and prevent breakouts.

If you are considering using PHAs in your skincare routine, it is important to start with a low concentration and frequency. Gradually increase these as your skin becomes used to it. It is also important to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, as PHAs can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. PHAs are generally safe for most people to use. They can however cause some side effects, such as dryness, redness, and irritation. Always do a patch test to check for signs of allergy when you start any new skincare product. If you experience any of these side effects or signs of an allergic reaction, you should discontinue use and consult with a doctor.

Polyhydroxy acid is a potent yet gentle skincare ingredient with a wide array of benefits for the skin. Not only do they offer the same benefits as AHAs and BHAs but they do so with less irritation. They are also more hydrating and hence an ideal solution for those with dry or sensitive skin. They work well alone and you can also use them alongside other products as part of an active skincare routine. As with any skincare, its important to remember that you will need patience and a gradual approach. This will help you avoid side effects and get optimal results!

If you would like to learn more about personalised skincare then book a virtual consultation with one of our doctors. Contact us today to schedule your consultation and take your first step towards better 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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