Anyone with more than a passing interest in skincare will know that AHAs have been enjoying a moment. Actually, they’ve been enjoying more than a moment – they’ve had a few good years in the spotlight. And for good reason, too: AHAs, aka Alpha Hydroxy Acids, are an acid that is applied topically either by swiping across the skin after cleansing like a toner or in the form of a moisturiser or serum. When used on the right skin in the right way, the results are astonishing: tighter, brighter skin emerges – and quickly.
But AHAs aren’t a catch-all ticket to glow. If you’ve been using yours diligently and have found that your skin is now a bit red and maybe more sensitised, you might be right in suspecting that your AHA is the cause.
Pam Marshall, Clinical Aesthetician at Mortar & Milk, explains: “AHAs create a controlled wound – which will instigate collagen and elastin production – but creating that wound repeatedly doesn’t allow the skin to heal appropriately and will cause vascular (redness) issues and deplete the acid mantle, leading to trans-epidermal water loss, which can actually exacerbate the conditions like acne that the AHA was meant to be treating.”
Think of it in terms of a scab – if you leave it to heal, it’s fine. Pick it and repeatedly re-wound it, and you’re likely to end up with a whole lot of redness and irritation. If you start with skin that’s already a bit stressed as a result of acne, rosacea, or eczema, overuse of AHAs can be a real issue.
Fortunately, PHAs (Polyhydroxy acids), which offer many of the perks of AHAs (exfoliation by breaking the bonds between cells, acid mantle-bolstering etc.), with none of the pitfalls (potential moisture loss because of compromised barrier function, and resulting dehydration and irritation), have recently been making waves on the beauty scene. They’re considered to be the next generation of AHAs that can be used daily thanks to their larger, more hydrophilic, water-loving molecules: “because the molecules are larger in size,” says Daniel Issacs, Head of Formulating and Development at Medik8, “they cannot penetrate skin as deeply as traditional AHAs and BHAs, instead working exclusively on the skin’s surface without disturbing the delicate layers that lie beneath.”
Sold? Pick up one of the below products containing PHAs, or look for Gluconolactone or Lactobionic Acid on the label, and feel free to use them daily without having to worry that your skin’s going to go mad…
Exuviance Gentle Cleanser, £39 / Many skincare experts tout cleansing as the most important step in a good skincare regime, and if you’re keen to up the ante on your cleanse, this PHA-containing, creamy cleanser would be ideal. Make time to massage it onto your skin for the full effect.
Medik8 White Balance Click Oxy-R, £59 / Designed to target pigmentation, this cream contains niacinamide to lift dark splodges and PHA gluconolactone to gently resurface and hydrate.
NeoStrata Ultra Moisturising Face Cream PHA 10, £26 / Blending 10% of PHA gluconolactone with Vitamin E and B, this moisturiser deeply hydrates and restores skin.