What is the difference between alpha and beta hydroxy acids in skincare?

What is the difference between alpha and beta hydroxy acids in skincare?

To some, the thought of applying acid to your face may sound like an extreme approach to skincare. But if you take a close look at the active ingredients of your favorite products, you’ll see that acids oftentimes play a significant role. Some of the more commonly used acids include salicylic acid, lactic, and glycolic acid.

The acids most often found in skincare products can be classified into two major groups: alpha and beta hydroxy acids. Although they are both types of hydroxy acids, they are composed differently, and so have different effects on your skin. It is important to understand these differences so that you can choose which one (or both) is the best choice for your individual skincare needs.

Alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble, and work as exfoliants to speed up the shedding of old skin cells and cell turnover. Because of this, they are ideal for people with dry, scaly, dull skin, aged or sun-damaged skin, or uneven skin tone and texture. AHA’s can also help to increase the effectiveness of other skincare products, as they help to remove dirt, oil and dead skin cells, so the other products can penetrate the skin more easily. The most commonly used alpha hydroxy acids are glycolic acid and lactic acid.

In contrast to AHA’s, beta hydroxy acids are lipid-soluble. This means that they are able to penetrate the sebaceous (or oil) glands, making them ideal for use on oily skin types. Not only do they balance the oil content on your skin, but they also treat blackheads and whiteheads too. In fact, salicylic acid, one of the most common active ingredients in acne medications, is a BHA. Unlike AHA’s, BHA’s are usually present in lower concentrations in skincare products.

If you have severe acne, be sure to speak with your dermatologist about prescription medications that can further manage your symptoms. It’s also important to remember that all hydroxy acids can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so consistent daily sunscreen use, with reapplication throughout the day is a must.



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