The turning point.
If there were one ingredient that marked the turning point in my career in beauty, it would have to be the alpha hydroxy acid, known as lactic acid. From the moment I started using this clever ingredient on my skin, I was hooked. That was way back in 2003, and I remain forever a devoted fan.
We could just stop there, but of course, you have more questions, and I have plenty of answers.
Let the revolution begin.
Lactic acid is one of a handful of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s), and they’ve been around for quite some time; for me, it not only marked a turning point in my career and my skin but for many, the inclusion of AHA’s in skincare preparations and clinic and spa treatments remains at the forefront of the move towards what we now know as cosmeceutical or active skin care.
Why do I love thee so?
Alpha hydroxy acids are a class of chemical compounds with the most commonly used AHA’s:
Lactic Acid, glycolic Acid, mandelic Acid, as well as citric, malic and tartaric Acids.
Alpha hydroxy acids loosen the bonds or the intercellular glue that anchor dead cells to the surface of your skin; of course, your skin does this naturally, but it tends to slow down with age.
The wonderful thing about AHA’s is the two-fold benefit to the skin.
Firstly, dissolving the dead cells of the stratum corneum (SC), the uppermost layer of the epidermis, encourages the skin to function optimally. A build-up of dead cells gives the skin a dull appearance and lacks light-reflecting luminosity.
Secondly, by encouraging better surface exfoliation, the activity of cell differentiation in the epidermis is increased for improved cell turnover.
All AHAs are naturally derived, but many are commercially produced synthetically in the cosmetic lab to replicate the chemical compound. A synthetically produced AHA is just as effective and offers more stability to those found in their natural state.
The most commonly used AHA is glycolic acid, followed closely by lactic acid and mandelic acid. All have similar actions on the skin and its improvement. But as similar as they are, they all have their place with specific and notable differences and benefits depending on your skin type.
Three of the most commonly used AHA’s.
Naturally derived from sugar cane, and even though it’s the most commonly used AHA, it has its limitation. One of its most defining features is the small molecular structure.
Small molecular size enables a faster penetration into the skin, more so than other AHAs. Great if you have resilient skin with a strong lipid barrier or if your skin has become thickened due to sun damage.
Glycolic acid is able to penetrate efficiently passed the lipid barrier into the epidermal layers of the skin.
Glycolic acid is perfect for thicker, oilier skin types. Although it is great for thickened skin, it can also be used on skin that is less resilient. The trick is to select the appropriate concentration for your skin type to prevent over-irritation or opt for another less irritating AHA, such as lactic acid.
Glycolic acid is ideal for sun damage and thickened skin or oily skin types with congestion and acne.
Cleopatra was more than just a great beauty of her time; she knew a secret or two about beautiful skin. Yep, bathing in milk.
As it turns out, lactic acid is derived from sour milk, but unlike its cousin glycolic acid, lactic acid has a slightly larger molecular structure which means there is a slower penetration into the skin.
A larger molecule doesn’t lessen its effectiveness; it just means you are less likely to suffer redness or irritation when using it.
Personally, I prefer lactic acid as it’s a substance already found in the body, giving it a better affinity with your skin, especially if your skin tends to be a little on the reactive side.
It’s also worth noting that consistent use of lactic acid has shown the potential to improve the health of the skin’s extracellular matrix, which includes components such as collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid in the dermis, contributing to the overall improved appearance and resilience of the skin.
Lactic acid is ideal for most skin types concerned to support the skin’s structure and for continued skin health.
Coming from bitter almonds, mandelic acid with a large molecular structure makes it ideal for skin where there is a tendency to redness, irritation and sensitivity.
For those with Rosacea, it is highly recommended to use this mandelic acid as it is considerably gentler on the skin.
Of course, if your skin has any underlying sensitivity caused by poor lipid barrier structure, then you need to address those issues first.
Mandelic acid is brilliant for acne, hyper-pigmentation and age spots and gives those who thought they were too sensitive to use AHA’s new options for treatment.
Anti-Ageing at its best.
With so many new ingredients continually emerging, there are still mainstays that continue to stand up to the test of time and are supported by scientific evidence.
When it comes to AHAs, the best proof is in the use of them. If the concentrations and the pH are correct, they rarely disappoint.
Every serious anti-age regimen or cosmeceutical brand should have a well-formulated AHA serum formulation in it.
The concentrations in your AHA home care will depend on your skin type and condition, and an experienced skincare professional will be well-versed in AHAs and can guide you in the best concentration and formula for you.
One last thing before you rush out.
AHAs are used in high concentrations in beauty and cosmetic clinics, usually known as chemical peels, but they are now widely used in cosmetic preparations for use at home, with the best formula combinations coming from cosmeceutical brands.
Ideally, for optimal results, combine your alpha hydroxy homecare with regular chemical peel treatments.
There are a couple of precautions with AHA to consider. If you use them regularly, you should also insist upon yourself the daily use of a well-formulated broad-spectrum sunscreen.
As good as AHA’s are, they are best in serum, cream or gel formulations, and while an AHA cleanser certainly has its benefits, it’s probably best as a short-term or alternative option to your regular cleanser if your skin is showing signs of sun damage or if you have oily, congestion facial pores.
And now you.
Have you found an effective AHA serum or cream that changed your skin for the better? Or, maybe you have a question? You can always shoot me an email over here.
See you next time.