Picking exfoliating acids for achieving healthy and glowing skin: which ones should be opted for?

Unlocking the benefits and maximizing the effectiveness of AHA, BHA, and PHA exfoliants: tips and tricks to harness the power of these cosmetic allies for your skincare routine.

Topical acids have become increasingly popular and more used in recent years, thanks to the right information on their use.

They smooth the skin, make it bright, smooth out small wrinkles and help regenerate dead cells: they are among the most powerful ingredients to counteract the signs of aging. Those used in cosmetics are many and differ in actions and results.

Because of the scrubs that can sometimes be too aggressive in fact, in addition to the magic you can find in chemical exfoliants, valid alternatives are AHA, BHA and PHA acids that are quickly becoming a must in the skin care routine.

They are valuable allies as they offer brightness and free pores, they can also help the production of collagen, reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

The three most common types of acids in skin care are: AHA, BHA and PHA.

What are AHAs?

They are the alpha-hydroxy acids or fruit acids such as malic, a natural acidifying compound widespread in nature, in many fruits (such as apples or grapes), and mandelic, extracted from almonds. For more information, see also our guide on acids.

Usually derived from organic sugars, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) dissolve dead cells, revealing a smoother complexion and reducing mild blemishes. There are different types of AHAs that are excellent for different skin conditions and especially useful for combating the signs of aging.

Glycolic acid, for example, is a well-known AHA that can help counteract aging and acne, while lactic acid reduces dark spots and helps counteract fine wrinkles. Mandelic acid, obtained from bitter almonds, also treats skin imperfections and is very delicate.

If you have an uneven texture on your face or if your complexion is simply a little dull, AHAs are a great solution to add to your routine.

BHAs give light

The main exponent of beta-hydroxy acids, salicylic acid is a molecule with known exfoliating properties that, for this reason, is widely used in cosmetics.

Salicylic acid is the essential component of some products for the treatment of the skin and in particular for the treatment of acne, in fact it manages to penetrate deep into the pores to free them.

Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, BHAs also soothe redness, reduce excess sebum and make pores appear smaller.

Powerful yet delicate PHAs

Polyhydroxy acids (PHA) are the only category of acids found in skin treatments that do not make it more sensitive to UV damage. They are incredibly gentle on the skin, loosen dead cells and improve skin hydration.

Although they do not penetrate much into the skin, and therefore are not the best to eliminate acne, they are ideal for sensitive skin and to have a clean and luminous complexion.

AHA vs BHA vs PHA: Which one to use?

All of these acids exfoliate the skin and keep it smooth, clear and firm, but there are differences that make each one more suitable for your specific needs.

AHAs and PHAs act only on the surface of the skin, while BHAs, which exfoliate both the surface and pores, are more suitable for serious disorders and for normal or oily skin.

For normal or dry skin, an AHA is a great choice, as there is no need for super-deep exfoliation of a BHA.

For irritable skin, you should choose a mild AHA such as lactic acid or a PHA, which is the mildest of all thanks to its large molecular structure (which means it cannot penetrate the skin like salicylic acid).

PHAs are also great if you use a retinol, because together they help brighten the skin.

These acids act on different conditions and therefore can also be layered for better results. However, the combination between them, makes them more powerful and can sometimes cause irritation, so it is always good to pay attention.

It is advisable to apply acids on different parts of the face to avoid overlapping them on the same area of the skin (for example, salicylic acid for the oily T-zone and an AHA or PHA product in other areas), or to use a cleanser with one type of acid followed by a tonic with another type of acid, since the detergent will be washed off.

In addition, always keep in mind that there are other ingredients with which it is absolutely better not to mix these acids, unless they are already formulated together, such as vitamin C.

So always make sure to be careful before adding a particular product to your routine!

Side effects

The acids exfoliate the skin, resulting in the sole effect of inducing excessive exfoliation.

The important thing is to always test an AHA, BHA or PHA product before using it regularly and carefully plan the layering to avoid overusing these acids and ruining the skin barrier.

The use of topical acids can also cause sensitivity to sunlight, but in this case it is necessary to apply a good SPF, which should always be applied as a good rule of thumb.

Once you have eliminated all the dead cells and impurities of your skin with an exfoliant, it is advisable to complete your beauty routine with a serum and a cream!

See also our guide to oils and serums for the face.


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