If you’re looking to achieve smooth, supple, radiant skin, exfoliating should form part of your skincare routine. Though your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells every thirty days or so, this process slows down over time, resulting in dry, dull, congested skin, as well as the appearance of enlarged pores, poor skin texture, and uneven skin tone. Exfoliation gives your skin a helping hand, removing the buildup of dead skin cells and revealing smoother, softer, more hydrated skin. For best results, steer clear of granular formulas involving harsh ingredients like walnut shells and microbeads which can damage the skin’s barrier and turn to chemical exfoliation instead; alpha hydroxy acid – or AHA – is a chemical exfoliant which can be utilised by almost any skin type.
Read on for everything you need to know about using AHA in your skincare routine.
AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid, which are acids derived from sugar cane or other fruit sources (like corn starch, orange, lemon, and beets). Alpha hydroxy acids include glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and citric acid, with the first two being the most commonly used in skincare products.
“AHAs are water soluble so only work on the skin’s surface. They are generally preferred for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin, due to their ability to enhance natural moisturising factors within skin,” says Desiree Stordahl, Paula’s Choice Senior Research & Education Manager. “AHAs have also been proven effective in reducing the visible signs of sun damage, including crepe-y skin and wrinkles.”
What are the benefits of AHAs?
On the whole, AHAs work to exfoliate, hydrate, and brighten the skin. By exfoliating the skin, AHAs loosen and remove dead skin cells, preventing buildup that causes the appearance of dull skin. This exfoliation process also aids in evening out skin tone, promoting skin cell turnover, reducing pigmentation, stimulating collagen production, and improving the appearance of fine lines. AHAs can also work to shrink the appearance of pores and reduce acne and congestion.
Which skin types do AHAs suit?
AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid are hydrating, allowing them to be used by all skin types.
Can you use AHA with retinol and other skincare actives?
“You can absolutely use an AHA alongside retinol; they don’t deactivate one another,” says Desiree Stordahl, adding that “if anything, AHAs actually help retinol work better by removing dead skin, so you get optimal penetration. The same goes for other acids like azelaic acid or ascorbic acid (a.k.a. vitamin C).”
As for BHAs like salicylic acid, Desiree says that “while most people do well with sticking to just one AHA or BHA exfoliant, some people find alternating between both works that much better to reveal [the] skin’s optimal smoothness and healthy tone. If you want to use both, all you need to do is alternate application [using] one in the morning and the other at night, or rotate days.” Alternatively, she suggests using “a product that properly combines AHA and BHA together in one formula.”
How to incorporate AHAs into your skincare routine
Leave-on alpha hydroxy acids should be used after cleansing and toning, before applying any other serums. Additionally, AHAs can cause the skin to be more sensitive to the sun, making it essential to wear a broad spectrum SPF during the day.
The 8 best products with AHA
Try chemical exfoliation with one of these alpha hydroxy acid products.
1. Wrinkles Schminkles Face Polishing Peel Pads
Using a combination of AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs, Wrinkles Schminkles Face Polishing Peel Pads target signs of ageing, pigmentation, sun damage, and acne. Glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, salicylic, poly hydroxy, and hibiscus flower acid come together in this fast acting formula; simply wipe over cleansed skin for two minutes and apply your usual serums and moisturiser afterwards.
AHAs (lactic, glycolic, and citric acid) and BHA (salicylic acid) from fruit enzymes work together in this 15-minute mask to address congestion and smoothen skin by exfoliating dead skin cells, revealing hydrated, brighter skin. Vitamin C enhances the brightening action while jojoba oil provides moisture.
3. Paula’s Choice Advanced Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA
A leave-on exfoliant, Paula’s Choice Advanced Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA is designed to be used after cleansing and toning, prior to applying serums. A blend of AHAs refine the skin, reduce congestion, and minimise the appearance of pores, while antioxidants from chamomile, green tea, and grape seed extract protect against environmental damage.
Ideal for beginners, Go-To Exfoliating Swipeys make exfoliation easy. Utilising lactic acid – the most gentle AHA – and hydrating essential oils, Swipeys come pre-soaked and ready to be used on damp skin after cleansing.
Derived from botanical extracts, the AHAs in Press Beauty AHA Booster Serum exfoliate the surface layer of your skin to reveal more even skin texture while controlling sebum production. Meanwhile, vitamin C powerhouse Kakadu plum encourages skin renewal and brightening, aloe vera contains healing antioxidants, and rose oil provides antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties as well as a floral scent.
An Aussie cult-fave, Alpha-H Liquid Gold uses glycolic acid to exfoliate the skin and stimulate collagen production, while a low-pH delivery system allows the AHA to penetrate the skin more deeply for maximum effect.