What Are AHAs and Should I Use Them In My Skin Care Regime?

How Facial Acids Can Benefit Your Skin

exfoliating mask
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I read online that AHA's are a better choice than a regular face scrub when it comes to exfoliating, but I'm not really sure I know what AHAs are and what they can do for my skin. Can you explain just what AHAs are? Are they for everyone's skin? How do I use them?


AHAs, or Alpha Hydroxy Acids, are becoming quite common in beauty products. If you've heard of a chemical peel, you've heard of AHAs.

Though AHAs are certainly not new to skin care, it wasn't until fairly recently that they became so widely available in over the counter beauty products. Now you can find AHA acids in everything from facial cleansers to serums to moisturizers to exfoliating pads. Given the variety of facial acids available, there is definitely a product that is right for everyone's skin. Since everyone needs to be exfoliating their skin regularly in order to have healthy skin, finding a product with AHAs will definitely benefit your skin.

What Exactly Are AHAs?

AHAs are actually molecules found naturally in different fruits like papaya or pumpkin or in other food products like milk which contains lactic acid. Glycolic acid occurs naturally in sugarcane. Mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds. Unlike the regular facial scrub that you are used to, which exfoliates your skin manually with little particles you can feel with your fingers, AHA loosens the "glue" holding dead skin cells together and dissolves them.

Then you simply wash those dead skin cells down the drain.

Unlike AHAs, scrubs can contain harsh and sharp particles that can scratch sensitive skin and hurt instead of help your skin. When you use AHAs you can choose the strength of the product and the type of acids it contains so that you get a great exfoliation without harsh side effects.

Many people like the ease and the uniformed exfoliation that comes with using AHAs. You are unable to feel any exfoliating bits, but you will definitely notice that your skin is softer and smoother after using them. Another added benefit of using AHAs is that they are known for helping lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as lightening dark spots on your skin, such as sun spots and freckles. Glycolic acid, for example, is an excellent anti-aging ingredient for your skin. Over time, it can help rebuild lost collagen, thickens the epidermis (the outer layer of your skin), and evens out your skin tone. You need to be patient when using AHAs; they can work wonders on your skin, but it does take time to see results.  

Another thing to remember when you are using AHAs is that your skin can become more sun sensitive. Not only for the day after you used the product, but for up to a week after you use it. So of course, using sunscreen is very important when using AHAs, and reapplying sunscreen throughout the day is just as important. Because of this issue products with AHA should be used mainly at night unless the product manufacturer says it can be used during the day as well.

Remember that AHAs are not just for your face, they can be used all over your body as well in order to exfoliate the skin on your arms, legs, and even feet.

Where Can I Find AHAs?

Today, you can find AHAs in everything from cleansers to moisturizers and of course exfoliators. If you are using a facial cleanser with AHA in it be sure to leave the cleanser on your face for at least 30 seconds so that the acids have time to penetrate and get to work. Depending on the strength of cleanser and your skin's sensitivity you may even leave the cleanser on your face for longer. Even after you wash the cleanser off the acids will continue working and doing their job. You can also find AHAs in exfoliating pads that you wipe across your face to remove dead skin cells and then do not rinse your face. They can be found in serums that are applied directly to the skin and in facial masks that you apply and rinse off the skin.

There are also moisturizers with AHAs in them. 

Find AHAs in Philosophy Hope in a Jar Night Intense Retexturing MoisturizerCaudalie Glycolic Peel, or REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask to name just a few products.

People with sensitive skin should use lactic acid on their skin. Lactic acid is a large molecule so it does not penetrate as deeply as glycolic acid, for example. An added bonus when it comes to lactic acid is that it also increases the moisturize level in the skin. Find lactic acid in Dermalogica Age Smart Skin Resurfacing Cleanser.

Updated by Hanah Tetro