Putting an acid on your skin might sound slightly terrifying at first, but you don’t have to be a scientist to find the right acid for your routine. Low dosage acids in skincare can be extremely effective in fighting signs of ageing, clearing breakouts and for getting that flawless, smooth, glowy look.
Below, we break down what exactly they are, what they each do and exactly how to use them in your skincare routine…
What do all these acronyms mean?
The skincare world of acids are divided into three categories: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) and the underdog, Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs). All are naturally derived chemical exfoliants which are added to serums, cleansers, creams or toners that essentially nibble away at the skin either on the surface or within the pore to help clear congestion and slough off dead skin cells.
What can AHAs do for the skin?
One of the most popular acids families is AHAs and the most common are glycolic acid, lactic and mandelic acid. “Alpha hydroxy acids are water soluble acids derived from natural substances that exfoliate the outer layer of the skin while increasing collagen production. They help with skin luminosity, dryness, dullness and mild sun damage” describes Dr Michelle Rodrigues, director of Chroma Dermatology, Pigment and Skin of Colour Centre. As they work on the surface of the skin, you’ll often feel a slight tingle sometimes, but no need to panic, it’s doing its job!
When should BHAs be used?
If you’re on the oilier side and struggle with breakouts, blackheads or milia (the little white bumps sometimes under the skin) this is your new best friend. Unlike AHAs, this one is oil-soluble which is why they’re ideal for those with an oil-slick t-zone (remember oil, dissolves oil?). The most popular of them all is salicylic acid which you’ll find in targeted spot treatments as they get below the oil clogging the pore and use it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties to clear.
Why are PHAs trending?
They’re the newest ingredient to take the skincare limelight. While similar to an AHA, by how it breaks down the ‘glue’ that binds dead cells to the surface, they have a larger molecular structure, meaning they can’t penetrate as deeply as their counterparts, hence are a lot gentler on the skin.
What are the benefits of Azelaic acid?
Quite the individual, this acid doesn’t fall into wither of the common acid families. Michelle explains it’s produced by yeast that occurs naturally on our skin and is a saviour for rosacea sufferers. “It’s not just a chemical exfoliant, it has anti-inflammatory and anti-pigmentary effects,” she says.
Lactic or Glycolic?
Just because they’re part of the same family of acids does not mean they work the same way. “Glycolic acid is the lowest molecular weight of all AHAs so it penetrates deep into the skin and can work faster,” explains Michelle. “Lactic acid is a larger molecule with a lower pH so it works on a surface level and is therefore gentler, with slower results.”
If you’re using an acid at night, always remember to apply SPF 50+ the following morning as your skin will be especially sensitive to UVA rays. Exfoliate, SPF, repeat!