The ABCs of AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs
Updated: Aug 4
3 Key Exfoliants in Your Skincare Explained
Your skincare routine truly reflects your personality. For those who are busy, a facial wash and SPF moisturizer might be all you need in the morning. For those fighting oily skin, acne and breakouts, your skincare routine may involve several products to combat blemishes, protect against premature aging, and offer oil control benefits throughout the day. Whether you have dry, oily, or sensitive skin, the products you use on your face are important and it’s always best to know exactly what ingredients are inside your facial serums, moisturizers, and skincare products.
In this article, we’re going to explore three key skincare ingredients you may have never heard of before. AHA, BHA, and PHA are powerful exfoliants that offer unique skincare benefits. To make the most out of your skincare ritual, let’s take a look at these ingredients and how they can protect your skin and help combat common skincare concerns.
1. AHA & Skincare Benefits
Often used in chemical peels, AHA or Alpha Hydroxy Acid is an effective exfoliant that can help promote collagen production, blood flow, and combat premature aging.
As AHA removes dead skin cells, it can leave your skin more vulnerable to sunlight. So it’s important to use skincare products that contain AHA with an SPF face cream, especially if you have sensitive skin.
When checking the ingredients in your skincare products you can look out for Glycolic acid, Lactic acid, and Mandelic acid, as these are all key AHAs.
Glycolic Acid is the smallest of all acids, yet is the one that produces superior results. Glycolic Acid is one of the most effective ingredients in anti-pollution skincare by helping to eliminate the build-up of oils and dead skin cells on your skin. In doing so, pores are unclogged to prevent future blemishes and reveal a clear, smooth complexion. Glycolic Acid also works to regenerate collagen, thicken epidermis and dermis, and even helps to even out skin tone. Glycolic Acid is actually the smallest naturally occurring AHA which means it can penetrate the skin more deeply and easily hence it can be rather harsh for sensitive skin.
Lactic Acid is known to be hydrating and great at increasing the natural barrier lipids in the outer layer of skin that helps to reduce fine lines. It also contains brightening and lightening properties that fade post-blemish dark spots; and its renowned oil-control properties that keep pimples at bay!
Mandelic acid has gained popularity as an AHA variant that is gentle on the skin. It is larger in molecular weight as compared to Glycolic acid and this allows it to be gentler as it penetrates more slowly into the skin. As an exfoliant, Mandelic acid helps with acne and hyperpigmentation by removing layers of skin debris and working its magic of clearing the pores and increasing cell turnover. You can look forward to a brighter, clearer complexion with less obvious dark spots from the years of sun exposure with this gentle acid.
For more AHA variants, check out this post on Face Acids - Let's Talk Acids and Their Uses.
2. BHA For Oily Skin & Acne
BHA or Beta Hydroxy Acid is frequently used in anti-aging skincare products, and it also works as a powerful exfoliant. The most commonly used beta hydroxy acid in skincare products is Salicylic acid. If you experience oily skin and are prone to breakouts and acne, BHA will help to keep your spots under control. BHA helps to deeply cleanse your pores and remove dirt. Many people choose to use BHA to achieve a smooth complexion, minimize pores, reduce the risk of blackheads, pimples, or acne, and improve the texture of the skin.
BHA also has anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce redness.
Ideal for oily skin, if you're worried about acne, breakouts, and spots, make sure you’re using skincare products that contain BHA. Although BHAs do not make your skin as sensitive to the sun as compared to AHAs, you should still wear sunscreen every single day to prevent further sun damage.
3. PHA - Kind on Sensitive Skin
Polyhydroxy Acid, otherwise known as PHA is another key ingredient in skincare products and works as an exfoliant. The beauty of PHA is that it offers all the benefits of AHA but it is gentler on the skin as its larger molecular size allows it to penetrate more slowly into the skin. PHA will buff away dead skin cells over time without causing redness or irritation.
The hydrating nature of PHA further works to lock in moisture, strengthen the skin's moisture barrier, and prevent the skin from being vulnerable to damaging UV rays.
Gluconolactone and Lactobionic acid are key PHAs that you can look out for.
A naturally occurring PHA that is commonly found in your serums or moisturizers, Gluconolactone is a mild acid with skin conditioning and antioxidant properties. This means that it works to improve your skin texture, reducing the appearance of aged and damaged skin, and fight free radicals which are behind many common skincare issues such as fine lines and wrinkles. Gluconolactone was also observed to be as effective as Benzoyl Peroxide in the treatment of acne but to have fewer side effects.
Lactobionic acid is part of the PHA family and due to its atomic structure, it is one of the least irritating chemical exfoliants which is better tolerated than the more popular, deeply-penetrating Glycolic acid. This patented ingredient is known as a "Bionic Acid" and is derived from natural sugars. It works on the surface of the skin to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, discoloration, enlarged pores, and roughness through gentle exfoliation.
If you’re looking for a youthful glow but are worried about sensitive skin, eczema or rosacea, choose skincare products with PHA. The hydrating nature of PHA makes it ideal for all skin types, especially mature and sensitive skin.
About us: We are Skintelligence, a team focused on a 'skin-first' approach to beauty through artificial intelligence. We match products to you based on your unique skin type and needs. Results are highly accurate and personalized with AI and machine learning. It's fun, convenient, and it works. Try it here.
As featured in Her World, CLEO, FEMALE, Shape, Nuyou, Singapore Women’s Weekly, Daily Vanity, Layers of Skins.