What are AHA BHA PHA?


AHA BHA PHA refers to the three hydroxy acids that are found in various substances in nature, namely Alpha Hydroxy acids, Beta Hydroxy acids, and Poly Hydroxy acids. 

Mainly the Hydroxy Acids are used for exfoliating skin (the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin), for reducing pigmentation, for slowing down the aging of the skin and for getting rid of excess oil.


Each of the acids has its own unique property, allowing it to be used for specific purposes or skin types. For instance, some are good for oily skin while others are for dry skin. And some acids are suitable options for sensitive skins that could react to skincare products. 

Read on and learn more about the properties and benefits of each of the hydroxy acids. 

How can AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) benefit your skin?


Alpha Hydroxy Acids are generally used for exfoliation, as they help break down the bonds between skin cells (the fancy word for it is desmosome) to allow them to be cleaned easily. 


Since the dead skin cells make the texture of your skin appear rough and increase the likelihood of fine lines and wrinkles. On the other hand, exfoliating your skin smoothens it and can actually brighten it up.


And this is a form of chemical exfoliation, which is gentler than physical exfoliation that could damage the living skin cells. However, you should still take care of the concentration of AHA used.  


The Alpha Hydroxy Acids are hydrophilic, which means they are attracted to water. This allows them to lock in moisture onto your skin when you apply them. This makes AHA a suitable option for dry skin.


Since AHA can smoothen the skin and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, they are perfect for people with aging skin. Even some young people could have prematurely aged skin, so this would help them.  


Of all the AHAs, Glycolic acid, derived from sugars, and lactic acid, derived from milk, are the champion ingredients when it comes to skincare. Not only is glycolic acid good for exfoliation, but it is also good at controlling the production of sebum, which makes it suitable for oily or acne-prone skin. Lactic acid, on the other hand, has nice hydrating properties, making it perfect as a skin moisturizer.  It also has anti-microbial properties that make it suitable for the treatment of acne and pimples. 


Citric acid is also an AHA derived from citric fruits such as lemons, oranges, etc., that has anti-aging properties and can brighten your skin. 


Then you have mandelic acid derived from bitter almonds that is gentle on sensitive skin with its anti-inflammatory properties.


Some more AHAs include malic acid derived from apples that hydrate the skin and promote tissue respiration and tartaric acid derived from grapes that have anti-oxidant properties.    


How can BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acids) benefit your skin?

The most commonly used BHA is salicylic acid, which is derived from willow tree bark, wintergreen oil, and sweet birch. Salicylic acid is present in aspirin. If you have ever used aspirin to treat acne, you now know the reason why.  


Like the AHA, Beta Hydroxy Acids too are exfoliators; however, they have a slightly different method of action and offer some different benefits. BHA is able to penetrate the skin more deeply to bestow its beneficial effects on it. 


While AHA is hydrophilic, BHA is lipophilic, which means it is attracted to oil. This makes it excellent for cleaning out excess oil and sebum from the skin. The fact that it can penetrate deep into the skin means you get a thorough cleaning of pores. 


As you may have guessed by now, due to its lipophilic properties BHA is suitable for those with oily skin, which is often accompanied by acne. 


Salicyclic acid, the predominant BHA, also possesses anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it suitable for reducing redness and irritation. Often these symptoms accompany acne, so all the more reason for using this acid for the treatment of acne. 


Also, it is anti-microbial. Since bacteria is the main culprit behind acne, it should also help reduce it through this property as well. 


Moreover, some research findings reveal that salicylic acid is photo protective as well, which means it can be used as a sunscreen. This is actually a bonus benefit when it comes to skincare.  


How can PHA (Poly Hydroxy Acids) benefit your skin?


All of the Hydroxy Acids help exfoliate the skin - the Poly Hydroxy Acids aren’t an exception. The PHA is the latest addition to the family of hydroxy acids that are used in skincare. 


PHA is not much different from the AHA, in terms of both the molecular structure and mechanism of action. Like the latter, it too breaks down the bond between cells to help with exfoliation. And it also shares the hydrating properties of AHA. 


The only difference is that PHA has a larger molecular size than AHA, this means it does not penetrate the skin as fast as AHA. This leads to less irritation of the skin, if there is any. 

This property of the PHA makes it suitable for those with sensitive skin that could react to the products that contain AHA. For instance, the PHA is a safe option for those with eczema or rosacea. 


PHA also possesses anti-oxidant properties, allowing it to slow down the aging of the skin. This and the fact that it can reduce lines and wrinkles (similar action as AHA) make it suitable for those with mature skin. 


Some of the commonly used PHA include lactobionic acid (derived from the lactose in milk), galactose (a simple sugar), and gluconic acid (naturally found in cells). 


What are the risks of AHA and BHA?

·         Both AHA and BHA are off-limits for people with certain skin types, say the dermatologists.

·         People with darker skin, sensitive skin, or rosacea should be very cautious when using either product.

·         Those with sensitive skin might experience irritation, redness, or flaky skin after using either BHA or AHA.

·         Allergies are also a concern, so you should always test a small area of your skin or consult with a dermatologist before using a product with AHA or BHA.

·         Some people are allergic to salicylic acid, but allergies to AHAs are almost non-existent.

Why should you always wear SPF with AHAs?

·         Since AHAs are serious exfoliators, they will thin out the top layer of your skin, making it more susceptible to sun damage.

·         On top of thinning out the top layer and making your skin more sensitive to the sun, AHAs also remove pigment and decrease the further production of pigment.

·         When you’re using AHAs, your ‘natural’ sun protection will be diminished.

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