Everything you need to know about the acids: pha, AHA and bha

We are constantly hearing about how we should implement acids (not like the kind that turned Harley Quinn into “Harley Quinn” — TLDR: she was dropped into a vat of acid) into our daily and weekly skincare regiments. While it’s always good to test out new products, it is more important to know what is actually going on your face. Normally, the most popular kitten in the litter are the AHAs (your glycolic and lactic acids) followed by BHAs and then PHAs. Before you venture down a confusing rabbit hole of information that makes no sense to you, check out the below snapshots on each skincare acid to help you build up some basic knowledge on these skincare industry favorites. As always, consult with a professional such as a dermatologist or esthetician to make sure that they can help direct you to the one that is right for your skin (or give you healthy alternatives if your skin is too sensitive).

What is a PHA (Polyhydroxy Acids)

Like it’s cousin AHA, PHAs are a topical chemical exfoliant that can be used to remove dead skin cells helping achieve even skin tone and texture. By removing the layer of dead skin, it helps your other skincare products do a better job (aka getting more bang for your buck).

Types: Lactobionic Acid (from milk) + Gluconolactone (from mammals + corn) + Galactose (from dairy, avocados, sugar beets)

Characteristics of PHAs:

  • PHAs have a larger molecule, so that means that it has a lower likelihood of penetrating the skin — minimizing skin irritation
  • PHAs work as a humectant (aka hydrating)
  • PHAs stimulate collagen and boost cellular renewal
  • PHAs help soften fine lines & wrinkles (something all women want)
  • PHAs are great for sensitive skin, making them safe for those who experience rosacea & eczema flare-ups
  • PHAs double as an antioxidant and strengthen skin’s barrier function
  • PHAs help against glycation of the skin (this is the process of excess glucose/sugar on the skin, which stick to collagen/elastin proteins causing wrinkles)
  • PHAs don’t cause sun sensitivity

“Your skin has a memory. In ten, twenty, thirty years from now, your skin will show the results of how it was treated today. So treat it kindly and with respect.”

Jana Elston

What is an AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids)

AHAs are a group of acids that are derived from plant and mammal origins used within several variety of common skincare products (serums, toners + creams). The most common of AHAs are glycolic and lactic acids, which are also the most well researched. Glycolic and lactic acids are also the two chemicals that are the least likely to cause skin irritation.

Types: Citric acid (from citrus fruits) + Glycolic Acid (from sugar cane) + Hydroxycaprylic Acid (from animals) + Lactic Acid (from from lactose) + Hydroxycaproic Acid (from royal jelly) + Mandelic Acid (from almonds) + Malic Acid (from fruits) + Tartaric Acid (from grapes)

Characteristics of AHAs:

  • AHAs, unlike PHAs, is comprised of a smaller molecule that allows it to better penetrate the skin and get into the pore
  • AHAs are a water-loving acids are can serve as a humectant and help hydrate the skin
  • AHAs dissolve and exfoliates the surface of the skin and helps remove dead skin cells
  • AHAs help stimulate collagen within the skin and boost cellular renewal
  • AHAs assist the skin in softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • AHAs are also good at lessening sun damage, hyperpigmentation + PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation)
  • AHAs are good for most skin types, but makes sure to ask a professional if you can use it for your skin type

Temporary side effects of AHAs:
*AHAs are much stronger than PHAs

  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Dermatitis (aka eczema)

What is a BHA (Beta-hydroxy Acids)

BHAs are pretty much like AHAs, but come in a much smaller molecule (aka they can get into your pores better than AHAs and PHAs can). Due to their smaller nature and the level of skin penetration, they are more likely to cause skin irritation.

Types: Salicylic Acid (from willow bark)

Characteristics of AHAs:

  • BHAs are an oil-loving acid that are penetrate the skin into the pore to help dissolve dead skin cells, blackheads, sebum, etc.
  • BHAs are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial and help increase cellular renewal
  • BHAs are great for oily and acne-prone skin because of it’s ability to assist in the control of the skin’s oil production
  • BHAs can assist with the lessening of the appearance of sun damage, hyperpigmentation + PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation)

Temporary side effects of BHAs:
*BHAs are similar to AHAs and are much stronger than PHAs

  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Dermatitis (aka eczema)

Wishing you peace, love and lots of cookies,

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Writer. Gator. Learner. Reader. Skincare junkie.

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