What Are AHAs, BHAs and PHAs?

Acid - the very word is enough to trigger uncomfortable thoughts of sore, tingling skin for those who aren't in the beauty know.

And for those who are?

Well, they know that incorporating acids into a regular skincare regime is the answer to a pretty much flawless complexion.

Our skin sheds dead skin cells by naturally exfoliating constantly. But, over time, the process tends to slow down. 

That's where AHAs and BHAs come in. 

From Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) to new kid on the block Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs), these hard-working chemical exfoliants can minimise acne, erase pigmentation and blur fine lines - and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The best part? You don't need a degree in chemistry to know how to use them.

But what is the difference?

In ways, AHAs and BHAs are alike but also differ.

They both:

  • Make the skin look and feel firmer
  • Hydrate the skin
  • Improve the look of uneven skin tones
  • Lessen the appearance of wrinkles
  • Work by ungluing the bond that holds the dead skin cells on the skin's surface

They differ in that AHAs are water-soluble, meaning that they only work on the skin's surface.

It's because of this – as well as their hydrating abilities – that AHAs are recommended for dry or sun-damaged skin and are very effective in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and sun damage.

BHAs also work on the skin's surface but they can also get deep inside the pores.

They are oil-soluble so mostly recommended for normal to oily skin.

BHAs also have skin-calming properties which means it is also great for sensitive skin with redness or rosacea. It is a gentle ingredient even suitable for bumpy, uneven skin.

PHAs, on the other hand, work exclusively on the skin's surface without disturbing the delicate layers that lie beneath.

This means that they're especially beneficial for those who find other acids too strong.

They’re so gentle, they can even be used even by people with rosacea or eczema. In addition to minimizing the risk of red cheeks, PHAs are also hydrating, making them a great bet for anyone with super-dry skin. 

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