Skin Matters

What Exactly Are Alpha And Beta Hydroxy Acids?

...and how to choose which one is better for you.

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Hydroxy acid (HA) is a buzzword that’s been gaining attention when it comes to cosmetics, and we can probably attribute this to the recently increasing consumer interest in anti-aging products. While the term may sound new to you, this breakthrough skincare component has actually been around for more than a few decades now.

A lot has been said about HAs—some good, and some not so much—which is why we decided to try and get to the bottom of things. Let us walk you through the ins and outs of this significant innovation, so you can pass your own verdict on the subject matter.
 
What are hydroxy acids?
As a 2011 study published in the Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products put it, hydroxy acids (which are also known as fruit acids) have already been used for some 40 years to treat a number of skin conditions like acne, scarring, pigmentation, skin dryness, and wrinkles, and are generally classified into two: alpha and beta hydroxy acids.

HAs can affect skin cell regeneration rates, inflammatory response, and act as antioxidants, exfoliants, and moisturizers as well. Their benefits include smoother and suppler skin, and a more even complexion, which essentially resolve problems related to skin aging.
 


Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
The main difference between alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids is their chemical structure, which dictates solubility. AHAs are water-soluble and are largely known for their chemical exfoliating or peeling properties. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the more common ones used in cosmetic products which fall under this category.

According to The International Dermal Institute, recent studies found that a five percent lactic acid solution “not only stimulated [sloughing of dead skin] but also increased skin hydration and helped to reduce hyperpigmentation.” Compared to salicylic acid (a BHA), it can still be rather harsh and may leave a burning or stinging sensation on the skin.
 
Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)
BHAs on the other hand are fat-soluble, making it easier for them to penetrate the skin through sebaceous glands, and therefore, more effective for people with oily complexion. Beta hydroxy acids like malic acid, salicylic acid, and citric acid are noted for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics, so they are ideal for sensitive, acne-prone skin.
 
So, hydroxy acids: Yay or nay?
In the end, though, it is crucial to understand that acids are still acids, no matter what form they take. Before reaching for a jar of any product containing AHAs or BHAs, do your research on the right concentrations to look for based on your skin’s needs, the possible side effects, and the special care that comes with your treatment of choice.

For example, preparations with alpha hydroxy acid concentrations of 2 to 10% may be readily available over-the-counter, but that doesn’t mean that they’re perfectly safe for all skin types. While they might deliver on their promise to help reduce the visible signs of photoaging, appearance of fine lines, and give you plumper, better moisturized skin, their chemical peeling effects can expose you to increased sun damage even with concentrations as low as four percent, so you’ll need to ramp up your SPF routine and be more mindful of your clothing choices. Also, make sure your day and night creams have HAs and special anti-aging ingredients such as Intelligent Pro-cell complex to accelerate skin repair and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

When it comes to beta hydroxy acids, experts recommend going for concentrations between one to two percent, but to be on the safe side, it’s still best to consult with your dermatologist beforehand to get advice specifically for your skin. There’s really no such thing as being too careful about your body’s largest organ, after all.

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PDS is the only specialty society in Dermatology recognized by the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) and the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP). PDS is not an endorser of any product found in the site.


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