When you’re shopping for skincare products, you’re thinking about the end result, not the science that’s accomplishing that result. Chances are that you see a product and say, “Ooo, natural glow,” and not, “Ooo, hydroxycaproic acid.”
Ultimately, though, it’s the science that makes your products more than just shelf décor and paperweights. That’s why it helps to have a basic understanding of what you’re seeing when you shop for products.
No need for beakers or Bunsen burners, but let’s get into the basics of a term you’ve probably seen in the skincare aisle already: alpha-hydroxy acids or AHAs.
What Are Alpha-Hydroxy Acids?
AHAs are a group of acids that get their name from their chemical composition. They’re not exactly the powerful acids you might see an evil villain use to try to vaporize a superhero in a movie. Still, they’re strong enough to make a great difference in your skin if you know how to use them.
There are many AHAs, but there are a few that are especially common in skincare products. These include glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, hydroxycaproic acid, hydroxycaprylic acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid. You might see products that advertise AHAs, but they generally list the specific acids in their ingredients.
What Do Alpha-Hydroxy Acids Do for Your Skin?
When you know about AHAs and start looking for them, you’ll see them everywhere. That’s no accident. Skincare product manufacturers are all about AHAs because they have benefits for so many skin goals.
Out With the Old
AHAs are best known for their exfoliating superpowers. Without using rough textures that could scrape or tug at your skin, exfoliators with AHAs clear away dead skin cells, extra skin oils, and other debris on your skin’s surface.
Exfoliating is one of the best things you can do for your skin’s health and its appearance. Removing all those extras will let your skin’s natural, healthy glow shine through. It also reduces the appearance of signs of aging, and it can even keep acne at bay.
In With the New
AHAs don’t just get rid of the debris you don’t want on your skin. They also push your skin to new heights by increasing something you do want: collagen. Collagen is the natural protein that firms your skin, and AHAs have a way of talking your body into making more of it.
Your skin doesn’t just wrinkle when it starts to age. It also goes through some color changes, but not in the charming way an old photo gets that warm sepia tone. Instead, your skin develops age spots after years of sun exposure.
Fortunately, pigment correctors with AHAs can help. They increase your cell turnover rate by exfoliating and stimulating new cell growth. This leads to slowly replacing your damaged, pigmented skin with fresh, younger-looking skin.
Get Your Blood Pumping
Your blood is the cargo train that carries essentials like oxygen, hormones, and nutrients throughout your body. If the train gets sluggish, your skin doesn’t get what it needs and its health starts to suffer.
AHAs keep traffic moving by promoting healthier blood flow to your skin. This gives you a brighter, healthier, and more even complexion while also reducing inflammation in your skin.
One of the most common types of products that will feature AHAs, especially glycolic acid, is the acne category. Acne products love AHAs because these acids are multi-functional. They exfoliate away the debris that can clog your pores, they reduced enlarged pore openings so debris is less likely to get in, and they reduce inflammation so acne is less prominent.
Tips for Making the Most Out of AHAs
If you want to harness alpha-hydroxy acids for your skin’s benefit, don’t just do a search for products with AHAs. You’ll just drown in a sea of options. Use these tips to narrow your selection and get the best results.
Know Which Acids to Look For
Not all AHAs are created equal. They all have benefits, but two particular acids are known as the most effective: glycolic acid and lactic acid. It’s often easier to check out products with these acids first.
Along those same lines, if you see a product that advertises using AHAs, take a look at the ingredients list. Look for those seven acids I rattled off and see which ones are in the product. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are still your best bets, but other AHAs are effective too. Regardless, it’s always good to know what you’re buying and what type of results to expect.
Know Your Limits
As spectacular as AHAs are, they aren’t without their risks. For some people with sensitive skin, especially those with chronic skin conditions like rosacea, glycolic acid and other AHAs may irritate the skin. If you’re concerned about inflammation, start with a product that has a low concentration like 5% glycolic acid. Use it for several weeks and see if your skin gets inflamed.
Know Your Goals
As you clearly see, AHAs can tackle several skincare issues from aging to acne. That doesn’t mean every product with AHAs can accomplish all your goals, though. Most products combine AHAs with other ingredients designed to treat specific problems.
Focus on one goal at a type, whether it’s chipping away at facial aging or getting on top of your breakouts. Look for a product geared toward that particular goal so you get all the benefits of AHAs along with other therapeutic ingredients.
Aha! You’ve Found the Beauty of AHAs!
As cheesy as it might be, AHAs can really be an “aha!” moment for your skin. You know what I’m talking about: that moment you find a product that seems to answer all your hopes and dreams for your skin at once. If you’re still searching for it, try some new products with AHAs to see the difference they can make.