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You've probably heard about the benefits that hydroxy acids can deliver to skin. What you may not know is that there are two types of hydroxy acids – alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), sometimes referred to as fruit acids – and beta hydroxy acid (BHA), of which there is only one, salicylic acid. In this article let's look at both types of hydroxy acids to help you decide which one may be right for you.  

About Alpha Hydroxy Acids  

Alpha hydroxy acids (often referred to as AHAs) are derived from fruit and milk. They include:

glycolic acid, derived from sugar cane
lactic acid, derived from milk
mandelic acid, derived from bitter almonds
tartaric acid, derived from grapes
malic acid, derived from apples and pears
amongst others.

AHAs work by exfoliating or removing the top layer of skin  allowing newer, healthier skin cells to show through. They are particularly useful in dry skin and may help to diminish the appearance of wrinkles. Studies have shown that AHAs may also help to stimulate collagen production. As well, there is evidence that they can enhance the appearance of sun damage skin. They are often an important component of any skin lightening regimen.  

AHAs are best used in gels, creams or lotions to allow the product to deliver benefits. Washes and cleansers are often removed before the AHA can exert its action. Studies have shown that AHAs work best at concentrations of at least 4% formulated at a pH of around 3 or 4.

About Beta Hydroxy Acid  

There is only one beta hydroxy acid – salicylic acid – derived from acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. Like AHAs, beta hydroxy acid (BHA) acts as an exfoliant increasing the shedding of dead skin cells to allow newer, healthier skin cells to show through.

Studies have shown BHA to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, improve skin roughness and assist in reducing skin pigmentation disorders. BHA is also extremely useful in the treatment of breakouts and helpful in the management of keratosis pilaris, conditions that involve blocked or clogged pores.

As with AHAs, when choosing a BHA product, you may benefit more by opting for a cream, lotion or gel that stays on your skin. Washes and cleansers are removed from the skin before they have a chance to deliver benefits. Look for products containing at least 1% BHA at a pH of between 3 or 4 in order to derive maximum benefits.

The Difference Between Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acid  

AHAs are water soluble so they do not penetrate well beneath the skin's surface.  They are ideal for use on skin that is not prone to breakouts. BHA, on the other hand, is a lipid (oil) soluble molecule. This characteristic allows BHA to penetrate pores that contain sebum (oil) and help to exfoliate the pore itself. This makes BHA particularly useful in oily, acneic skin prone to breakouts.

Side Effects of Beta Hydroxy Acid and Alpha Hydroxy Acids  

Because both BHA and AHAs remove the skin's top layer, they can make skin more sensitive to sun exposure. Sensitivity can increase by up to 50%, which makes the use of broad spectrum UVA/UVB blocking sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 a must. Both types of acids can cause irritation including redness, burning, pain or itching. Darker skinned individuals may also be at risk for scarring with the use of AHAs or BHA.

Formulations That Work  

If the idea of incorporating an AHA or BHA into your skin care regimen appeals, there is an endless array to choose from including some of our topsellers: [Link Removed] La Roche  Posay Effaclar and Credentials Glycolic Cream.  

Sharmani Pillay is a Registered Pharmacist who specializes in anti aging skin care. She owns and operates an online skin care store at

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