Acne is an unfortunate rite of passage - whether it was teenage trouble, hormonal flare-ups, or simply oily skin, everyone has had a blemish or two that they couldn't resist touching (yes, we know we shouldn't have). If you've been in the same position, worry no more - we've got the acne-fighting solution you've been missing.
Let us introduce you to the newest item in your acne arsenal: acid. Scary as that may sound, skincare acids are chemical exfoliators that are - contrary to what they sound like - gentler than physical exfoliators. The most common acids you'd see mentioned on beauty blogs are AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs. Acronyms for Alpha-Hydroxy Acids, Beta-Hydroxy Acids, and Poly-Hydroxy Acids, here's how these powerhouse potions will change your skin for the better.
Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
If you've faced the conundrum of dry skin that somehow still manages to break out now and then, AHAs are for you. This water-soluble acid helps to gently dissolve the bonds that hold your old skin cells to the new ones underneath, working by gently sloughing off the topmost layer of your skin (again, not as painful as it sounds), and works to combat dullness, excess oil, dark spots, fine lines, acne scarring, and pretty much brighten your skin. The most common of these fruit-derived acids are glycolic acid and lactic acid, and while they're ideal for all skin types, those with sensitive skin should be careful.
Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)
Better known as salicylic acid, BHAs are oil-soluble acids that are perfect for those with oily skin types prone to acne, blackheads and milia. They are gentle enough to not strip the face of its essential oils while simultaneously penetrating deep into the skin, to help clear up pores blocked with sebum and debris - the nasties that cause acne. This anti-inflammatory acid is also good for tackling pigmentation and redness.
Poly-Hydroxy Acids (PHAs)
Considered the little sister of AHAs, PHAs work much like AHAs do, breaking down the glue that binds older skin cells to newer ones. These anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory acids are perfect for those with sensitive skin, including people with eczema and rosacea. If you have sensitive skin and PHAs sound like something you'd like to incorporate into your skincare routine, try searching for products that list gluconolactone or lactobionic acid in their ingredients. Gentle PHAs are perfect for those who have acne-prone skin that negatively reacts to a majority of the other acne treatments with strong ingredients.
Mix It Up
If you're already familiar with acids and are looking to up your game, you can begin using products that have a combination of acids in them. Be careful though, because if your skin isn't accustomed to the strength of the acid, you could end up harming your skin.
Do's and Dont's
Here are just a few things to remember while foraying into the realm of acids:
- Always use an SPF after (but you do that already, right?). The acids make your skin delicate, so protect them from the harsh Middle-Eastern sun with some sunscreen.
- Make sure to build up a tolerance to the acids over time, especially with glycolic acid. Begin with a 5% formulation and work your way up.
- Don't mix retinol with AHAs or BHAs, as both are strong treatments.
- Don't mix BHAs with benzoyl peroxide, even if they are both acne treatments.
- AHAs work most efficiently when they're at a 8% - 10% concentration - there's no need to go much higher if you are using a pure AHA treatment.
- Search for BHAs with a concentration of 1%-2%.