Most of us have probably used a product that contains hydroxy acids in our skincare routine. The Ordinary has revolutionised the use of these bad boys with their single active ingredient formulas and also made them far more accessible to everyone due to the price point they are able to sell at. Lactic, Glycolic, Salicylic – you’ve probably heard of these guys and we know they work. Nonetheless, you might still be wondering what exactly does each one of these AHAs and BHAs do? How do they differ? And, most importantly, which ones should you use when? Read on as we give you the lowdown.
HOW HYDROXY ACIDS WORK
In simple terms Hydroxy acids, tighten, firm, smooth and brighten the skin. You find these acids in higher concentrations in the professional treatments that are done in the Studio at Young LDN and in some cases these treatments will come with some form of downtime. However, the best thing is, almost everyone can tolerate hydroxy acids in lower concentrations that come with no downtime and just epic results! In your homecare products you can still find awesome combinations of Hydroxy acids that have been clinically formulated to offer significant improvements in the way your skin looks and feels. If using the right combination of products as directed by one of our tribe members, you should really notice a difference in your skin relatively quickly.
But how exactly do these powerhouse ingredients actually work? Essentially, hydroxy acids help to get rid of dead skin cells because they weaken the cellular glue that makes dead skin cells stick together. The result? A gentle exfoliation that leads to healthy, younger skin cells. At higher concentrations, hydroxy acids can also function below the surface of the skin delivering additional results because they are working in the epidermal and dermal layers. This can lead to a boost in collagen and elastin production, pigment lightening and melanin suppression.
This is also one of the main differences between the products you find in the Young LDN studio from brands like Image Skincare, iS Clinical, ZO Skin Health and Dermaceutic. These professional cosmeceutical brands formulate their products contain high concentrations of multiple hydroxy acids that have been stabilised ensuring the ingredients can penetrate into the lower levels of the skin. This differs from those that you can buy over the counter or that are more widely available like single active ingredient products at a cheaper price point. Whilst these products still have their purpose, they are often only working on the top layer of the skin and therefore actually sometimes having a detrimental effect on the skin barrier.
THE A-Z OF HYDROXY ACIDS
There are three categories of Hydroxy acids: Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHA) and polyphydroxy acids (PHAs). All three of these groups are derived from a range of natural sources. Some of the most common sources are fruit, willow bark and sugarcane. Additionally, they all work in a similar way but each group delivers different results. The main difference being that BHA is oil soluble or lipid which makes it more effective on oily skin. Hence why you’ll often find a lot of acne products containing Salicylic acid.
The ones that have the most clinical research behind them and therefore the ones that you find in most skincare products are: lactic, mandelic, glycolic and salicylic. There have been thousands of studies on these four bad boys and therefore they have the evidence to back up what they say.
Breaking it down even further..
ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS
IN SHORT: Lactic acid occurs naturally and is derived from a variety of sources, most frequently sour milk.
WHAT’S THE DEAL: It is great for improving skin barrier function and assisting with combatting dryness and flakiness. This is because it exfoliates the skin and helps to increase moisture at the top level of the skin.
SO WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM HAVING THIS AS PART OF THEIR ROUTINE: As with al other AHAs Lactic acid is great for brightening and exfoliating the skin. However, due to its larger molecule size, lactic acid does not penetrate as deeply into the skins surface as other AHAs like Glycolic acid, making it a gentler alternative. Therefore, if your skin is more sensitive then you’ll probably prefer lactic acid products over glycolic products as they’re not quite as harsh but deliver similar results.
ANYTHING ELSE TO KNOW? Studies have shown lactic acid to be effective for clearing sunspots as it accelerates cell turnover and helps to directly inhibit melanin production. Additionally, low and medium concentrations of around 12% lactic acid can increase the thickness and firmness of the skin and help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Recommended product: Image Skincare AGELESS Total Resurfacing Mask
IN SHORT: Again, mandelic acid is a naturally occurring acid that is derived from wild cherry and almond nuts.
WHAT’S THE DEAL: This is a powerhouse multitasking acid that is highly effective for combatting a number of concerns from fine lines and firmness to acne and discolouration. It is great for those with more sensitive skin and also those with higher concentrations of melanin. This is because it has a slightly larger molecule size so it doesn’t initiate post inflammatory responses or pigmentation like some other AHAs do.
SO WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM HAVING THIS AS PART OF THEIR ROUTINE? It is great for those who suffer from acne and congested pores thanks to its antimicrobial properties. A study done on the effects of a glycolic peel vs a mandelic-salicylic peel combined showed that the mandelic-salicylic peel saw better overall results with fewer side effects.
ANYTHING ELSE TO KNOW? In some studies, it has also shown efficacy for improving the skins elasticity.
Recommended product: Dermaceutic Yellow Cream
In Short: Considered by many professionals over the years as the best performing acid, glycolic acid occurs naturally and is derived from Sugarcane. It contains the smallest hydroxyl acid molecule and therefore it can penetrate deepest and fastest into the skin.
WHAT’S THE DEAL: like all AHAs it is an exfoliant and helps to dissolve the cellular glue that holds dead skin cells together. Due to its small molecular size meaning it can penetrate the furthest into the skins layers it has been shown to be the most effective AHA for stimulating collagen production. The result? Diminished fine lines and wrinkles.
SO WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM HAVING THIS AS PART OF THEIR ROUTINE? People concerned with fine lines and wrinkles will obviously benefit due to its wrinkle reducing power. Nonetheless it is also effective at reducing photodamage, making it a great ingredient of choice for the young at heart, more mature skins. It also has properties which help to prevent transepeidermal water loss and therefore it is a great acid for those with dryer skins. It’s also been shown to increase hyaluronic acid levels within the skin.
ANYTHING ELSE TO KNOW? It can be more irritating than other acids and often tingles on the skin. This is due to the fact it penetrates quickly and deeply. Sensitive skin types should be ware.
Recommend product: Dermaceutic Foamer 15
BETA HYDROXY ACID
IN SHORT: Derived from Willow Bark, Salicylic acid is a naturally occurring BHA.
WHAT’S THE DEAL: it is good for those who suffer with acne or more oily skin. Salicylic acid has keratolytic and comedolytic properties meaning not only does it exfoliate the skin cells on the surface, but it is able to burrow right down into the pore. Therefore, helping to decongest and remove debris that is clogging your pores as well as dissolve the oil.
SO WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM HAVING THIS AS PART OF THEIR ROUTINE? Unlike glycolic acid which isn’t oil soluble, salicylic acid can penetrate and clean out the inside of the pore meaning it is a good choice for acne prone or oily skin types. Not only can it help to clear existing acne and breakouts but it is also effective at preventing new ones if used regularly. It’s not only acne that it is great for though. It can also help with dark spots and won’t irritate the skin thanks to its natural anti-inflammatory properties. This means its great for those with darker skin types looking to correct sun damage or age spots or any other hyperpigmentation issues.
Anything else to know? Whilst salicylic acid has been proven to be effective against some forms of acne, it has not been shown to kill P. acnes bacteria which are the most common type of bacteria to cause acne. Subsequently, you will often find it combined with other powerhouse ingredients that have other antibacterial qualities such as Benzoyl peroxide. Due to the drying effect of salicylic acid it is important to have a good moisturiser in your routine as well.
Recommended product: Image Skincare Clear Cell Clarifying Pads
The least well know of the Hydroxy acids, polyhydroxy acids have become more well known in recent years. Acids in this group include things such as galactose, lactobionic and gluconolactone. They have some great antioxidant properties meaning they help protect the skin against free radical damage and they are also exfoliants themselves.
Polyhydroxy acids have a larger molecular size so they don’t penetrate as deep into the skin as AHAs making them a good fit for sensitive skin types as they can be less irritating.
HOW SHOULD I ADD HYDROXY ACIDS INTO MY SKINCARE ROUTINE?
These are very common skincare ingredients that are generally safe for the skin. The trick is to know when and how to add these in and also the amount of each one. Remember everyone’s skin journey is different, but there are some general rules of thumb that can be applied.
- PATCH TEST. If using an acid for the first time, apply a small amount on the arm at first to see how your skin reacts.
- TAKE IT EASY. It is best to start with a lower concentration and weaker formulation and work your way up as your skin learns to tolerate the acids more
- ALWAYS APPLY SUNSCREEN. AHAs in particular can make the skin more sensitive to UV radiation, therefore never forget your daily SPF.
It doesn’t matter what skin type you are, there are many benefits, backed by scientific research of adding hydroxy acids into your skincare routine. If you find the ones that are right for your skin journey you should notice a real difference. Of course, our Tribe are here to help and should you need advice or assistance with adding hydroxy acids into your routine book in for an online consultation with one of our expert Senior Aestheticians. Here’s to brighter, healthier, glowing skin.