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Everything you need to know about AHA, BHA, and PHA

Some acids will literally eat your face off, but if you do it just right, you can use them to achieve some of your loftiest skin goals. Acid peels are used to remove layers of dead skin from your face, as an intensive exfoliating treatment.

This first installation will focus on the basics, what are the different types of acids that are used in our skincare products. We’ll go full on Merriam Webster on these skin-friendly acids, with a short overview of how they can be helpful. In the next two installments we’ll dive into specific use cases like graceful aging and blemish care to understand how acids can be helpful for a more targeted approach.

Jonathan Van Ness is ready to talk about skincare

Let’s get down to the acidic details.

AHAs: Alpha-hydroxy acids

Alpha-hydroxy acids are one of the acids of choice for dry skin that tends to attract a lot of blemishes. They work on the surface of your skin, not penetrating deeply, cleaning up any dead skin cells that no longer serve you (namaste). By dissolving the bonds between skin cells, they do this clean-up in a fairly gentle way unlike physical exfoliation which can leave your face red like a cherry.

But why should I even care about my dead skin cells if they are #dead? Build-up of dead skin can actually lead to uneven texture and flaky skin. The claims for these ingredients are reducing the appearance of fine lines, acne scars and dark spots.

The AHA Ingredient Hall of Fame: Lactic acid (comes from milk), citric acid, glycolic acid (comes from sugar cane, works well on unblocking pores), and mandelic acidsWe recommend to use serums with these ingredients -- they’ll stay on longer so that you can reap maximum benefits. Here’s one that we’ve tried: PETER THOMAS ROTH 10% Glycolic Solutions Moisturizer.

*For those with sensitive skin: Start with low concentrations. These are still acids, although more gentle, they can cause irritation.

*Note for all Club Members: These acids can cause increase photosensitivity if you are using them, so make sure to continue using sunscreen!

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BHAs: Beta-hydroxy acids

AHAs are a large family of acids, but the BHA is one solitary acid. It’s actually our friend (that you probably know from your teenage acne days) Salicylic Acid! Because it is oil-soluble it can penetrate beneath the skin’s surface, cleaning out excess sebum from the pores and reducing oiliness.

We recommend using percentages of 0.5 to 2 percent, which are usually gentle enough for at-home use. This ingredient has a lot of great claims, especially for clearing pores of sebum and dirt without physical exfoliation. It can help with collagen production and skin barrier protection as well.

However, it is antimicrobial, drying, and can cause stinging/ irritation, so beware of that. Did you know that it is a derivative of Aspirin? Don’t use it if you are allergic.

| product recommendations for oily skin

PHAs: Polyhydroxy acids

Polyhydroxy acids are a new age version of AHAs (have you heard of these?). They provide similar benefits of resurfacing and scar-removal but without the side effects that the alphas can bring, as they have larger molecules. If you have sensitive skin in addition to eczema and rosacea, then PHAs are the acid class for you.

Additional benefits include hydration and moisture locking that helps to build up the skin’s moisture barrier and prevent further damage from chemical exfoliation. Ask for these in combination with a microdermabrasion treatment for an enhanced effect.

The PHA Ingredient Hall of Fame: Gluconolactone or Lactobionic acid

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‍Knowing your acids make for a great skincare trip. Using a PHA won’t give you the same results as an AHA or a BHA, but you can use a BHA and an AHA or PHA together (if you’re feeling risky). You know your skin best, so mix and match to a point that you get your desired results.

For more ingredient tidbits, subscribe to our newsletter. We highlight a new ingredient every week.

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