Glycolic_acid_3D_ballBy Donna Felice, RN, LE

What do you look for in your skin care products? We all want wrinkle fighters, brighteners, lighteners, pore shrinkers, zit fighters…well maybe not all that at once. But, how do you know if you have the right ingredients in your daily products to address your needs ?

One of the most important group of ingredients in skin care are Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids, aka AHA’s and BHA’s. These acids are derived from foods and are the workhorse of the skin care world. Let’s look at some of the most commonly used acids in skin care to help you have a better understanding of how to read you labels and get the most bang for your buck.


Alpha Hydroxy Acids

  1. Glycolic – derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid breaks the bonds holding dead skin cells together allowing them to shed and reveal healthy skin underneath. Glycolic acid was the go to acid for many years and known as “the classic peel” because of it’s small molecular size and ability to penetrate more deeply than other acids. But because of that, it is not as well controlled and can be irritating.
  2. Lactic Acid – derived from sour milk, lactic acid is quickly gaining more popularity in both over the counter and in office professional treatments. Lactic also helps shed dead skin while at the same time is very hydrating, lightening and safe for sensitive skin.
  3. Mandelic acid – made from bitter almonds and is both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. It will soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin texture. At the same time, they lighten areas that have darkened in response to skin damage and sun exposure. It can also boost collagen production in the dermis of the skin, giving skin a firmer more youthful appearance.
  4. Malic Acid – made from apples it has a superior ability to penetrate the skin, and is an ideal moisturizer for people who have very sensitive skin.
  5. Tartaric Acid – derived from grape wine, this AHA is not as popular as the other acids because it is not as stable. You will find it in many skin care preparations, but usually not as a main AHA.


Beta Hydroxy Acids

The only BHA used in skin care is salicylic acid which is derived from willow tree bark. Salicylic is powerful for oily, acneic skin and is the most common ingredients in over-the-counter acne face washes. It is the only oil soluble acid, meaning it can penetrate sebum and unclog black heads and white heads.


Finding the Right Acid For You

The FDA does not require skin care and cosmetic companies to list the percentage of acids in the product. However, it must have less than 10% for an over-the-counter product. When reading your labels make sure the AHA or BHA is listed as the 2nd or 3rd ingredient.

For a more potent percentage, you will need to visit an aesthetician. Licensed skin specialists are able to prescribe and cell much higher concentrations of active ingredients. For example, I often put my acne clients on a 8-15% mandelic serum to assist with lightening acne scars and clear pimples. Professional treatments, such as peels, involve applying much larger concentrations of the acids onto the skin for rapid results. Lactic peels, glycolic peels and mandelics are among the kinds of peels than can be applied by a professional .

For further assistance in making sure your skin is matched to the right acid or for a more rapid response and higher concentration visit (un)SPA Skin Treatment Center in Palmyra. We offer a free skin analysis and consultation that can show you what products and treatments are right for your skin type and condition. Just contact us to schedule an appointment, and you can take an acid trip with me.