Beauty enthusiasts and bloggers have led an exfoliation revolution of sorts on social media, as they move from DIY kitchen remedies to embrace acids that reset the skin. These acids are essentially exfoliators, which leave the skin smoother and clearer. It also increases the efficacy of other skincare products as the formulations can penetrate deeper into the skin.
They’re the missing link to the glow, but they come with a caveat—there is no one type that suits all. Each acid has a distinct set of pros and cons and shows different results depending on the skin type.
Understanding The Basics
The world of acids is broadly divided into AHAs, BHAs and PHAs. Dermatologist and founder of ISAAC Luxe, Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta comes to our rescue with a detailed explanation, “Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) are a group of acids that are naturally found in fruit, milk and sugar cane. They are exfoliating to varying degrees, with glycolic acid being the most powerful in the group. Next, we have the beta-hydroxy acids group (BHA), predominantly made up of salicylic acid. And finally, we have polyhydroxy acids (PHA), which have larger molecules than the AHAs. This makes them penetrate slower into the skin. They are gentler exfoliators than AHAs and BHAs.”
What Do They Do?
Aneesh Sheth, cosmetic chemist and founder of Dr Sheth’s, explains the acids’ individual functionality, “AHAs exfoliate the top layer of skin. BHAs work on the sebum and pores, scrubbing away the dead skin and gunk trapped in them. PHAs are larger molecules and work similar to AHAs, except that they are much gentler because of their large size.” Explaining further, cosmetic dermatologist Dr Satish Bhatia says, “PHAs are second-generation AHAs, as they offer similar exfoliating effects, only without causing irritation to the skin.”
Know Your Skin And Concern
It’s not a one size fits all formula when it comes to exfoliants. Here’s a handy guide to finding out what’s best suited for your skin type and concern:
Skin Type: Dry, Dull, Sun-Damaged, Pigmented, Ageing
You will benefit most from AHAs as they resurface the skin texture, even out the skin tone, increase skin elasticity and fight age-related skin deterioration. Within AHAs, glycolic acid and lactic acid, are the most popular. “Glycolic acid is used as an anti-ageing ingredient thanks to its capacity to regulate melanin synthesis, speed up the skin renewal process and stimulate the synthesis of collagen within the deeper skin layers. Lactic acid is an unusual AHA; it is a skin-identical ingredient and one of the main substances of the epidermis’ Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF). It is used to prevent skin dryness because of its capacity to enhance ceramide production by keratinocytes (cells that produce keratin) in the epidermis,” explains Dr Gupta.
Skin Type: Oily, Congested
To detoxify and reduce pores, look for anti-inflammatory BHAs in your products as they penetrate deeper into the skin layers and dissolve bacteria, dirt and excess sebum.
Skin Type: Sensitive, Prone To Rosacea And Eczema
PHAs are the gentlest due to their water solubility and largest molecular structure. They have humectant properties, which means they help in retaining moisture, and don’t make your skin sun-sensitive.
Better Safe Than Sorry
The depth of exfoliation that happens on the skin depends on the concentration of the acid type and contact time with the skin. “The right concentration of AHA for home use would be up to 10 per cent or lesser,” advises Dr Bhatia. Similarly, your selected BHA should have a concentration between 0.5 to 20 per cent; for PHAs, percentages don’t come into play as they’re too mild.
To begin, choose a wash-off product such as a cleanser or a scrub, instead of serums and creams. “Ideally use only one acid per routine to be safer, and preferably, as part of your night-time rituals since they do cause sun sensitivity. Avoid mixing them with retinoids (use on separate days), and remember to always wear sunscreen the next day,” he cautions.
Now that you’re armed with this understanding, don’t let the scientific names and percentages intimidate you. Including chemical exfoliants into your skincare regimen is the fastest and the most effective way to speed up skin’s metabolism, and gives you a stunning glow.
Photograph: Shutterstock/by popcorner