Acid is a Trip! The BHA & AHA Breakdown

Selecting the right skin care products can be tricky. So many ingredients & so many different types of acids! Choosing the wrong products can destroy your skin & too much of the right products can do just as much damage. So, what the solution? See your esthetician! It’s my job to analyze your skin & recommend products and treatments to repair your skin and keep it healthy! But that’s only a portion of my job…the most important (and my favorite) part of being your esthetician, is being able to share my knowledge of skin care products, the ingredients used, and why its beneficial to your skin.  I am an Esthetician by trade but an educator at heart. ❤️

In this blog, I want to highlight acids. It worries me when a patient tells me that they bought a product because “it worked great on Sally’s skin”! YOU are not Sally. What works on Sally, may not work with your skin type or issue. Another concern is the “go for the gusto” patient. “Use the strongest acids on me and give me the products that burn! If I don’t feel my face frying, it ain’t working”! Yes, I want you to get results, but I want you to get results the right way.

Acid is a trip! Back in the day, acids were formulated individually in high strengths to literally take your skin off! Thankfully, these formulations have evolved. Now, we have learned that combining different acids in lower strengths can achieve better results with less irritation & downtime. You don’t necessarily have to peel to get results. Just because you don’t visibly shed, doesn’t mean cell turn over isn’t happening. You may just experience a beautiful glow instead of snake skin. Yes, please!

Now let’s talk about the “sting” we all want to feel “to know its working”. Well, that isn’t entirely crazy. Here’s why…the product’s potency depends on the free-acid compounds that are in the product. Adjusting the pH adjusts the free-acid. If there is too much, your face burns like fire & is as red as the devil. If there isn’t enough, you get no discomfort & no results. So how do we find the right formula? Unfortunately, the products packaging doesn’t usually say the pH level (which should be between 3-4), so pay attention to how the acid application feels on your skin. If you feel a slight tingle for a few seconds, the acids are penetrating & doing their job. If you are feeling a heavier tingling or a strong burn that lasts longer than a few seconds, you’ve crossed the acid line.

Acids in skin care are classified as a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) & alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). What’s the difference? The answer is Lipid (oil) solubility. BHA is lipid (oil) soluble and AHAs are water soluble. BHA works better on oily skin because it’s able to penetrate the sebum in the pore to treat acne & breakouts. AHAs are better with aging & sun damaged skin. Both BHA & AHAs increase sun sensitivity by 50%! Even though the acids help to reverse sun damage, they increase sun sensitivity so you MUST protect you skin while under BHA & AHA treatment with a good sunscreen that protects against UVA & UVB rays. These acids are naturally derived, but can be manufactured synthetically. I encourage you to seek out naturally derived acids. Many companies use the synthetic versions of these acids because it’s cost effective. The problem, however, is that because they are synthetic, they will not metabolize as easily into the skin. Naturally derived acids metabolize better into the skin.

There are several notable acids…

The most common acid we hear in skin care is salicylic acid. This acid is also referred to as a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Salicylic acid (derived from Willowbark) is recommended in dosages that range from .05%-2% to treat acne, mild breakouts, blackheads & whiteheads. It can be prescribed in higher does to treat more serious conditions. It is a keratolytic (exfoliant), anti-irritant, antimicrobial and functions as an anti-inflammatory. When used properly, salicylic acid has the ability to exfoliate the surface of the skin & penetrate to exfoliate the lining of the pores. It causes the cells of the epidermis to become “unglued” allowing the dead skin cells to slough off, making room for regrowth of new skin.  ZO Skin Health & Medical products offer great salicylic options.  Dr. Obagi has formulated a plan for the skin that involves very few steps to ensure optimal results.  The start of the systems are called “Getting Skin Ready (GSR)”.  The system is to cleanse, exfoliate, & tone.  For acnetic skin your GSR is Exfoliating Cleanser, Dual Action Scrub, & Oil Control Pads.  The Exfoliating Cleanser contains salicylic acid and encapsulated Vitamin E to gently exfoliate and cleanse the skin.  The Dual Action Scrub contains salicylic acid & Lactic acid to treat & prevent future breakouts.  The Oil Control Pads contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, & mandelic acid to remove oil, normalize pore size, help smooth the skin’s surface & reduce inflammation.

Another common acid used is glycolic acid. Glycolic Acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sugar cane. Glycolic can be mild or moderate in dosages that range from 10% – 70%. It gently exfoliates outer layer of dead skin cells bringing new skin to the surface. Glycolic has a very small molecular composition, so this allows the acid to penetrate deeper than most acids. Professionals report that it is best used for anti-aging, but also regenerates collagen, thickens the epidermis and dermis, and evens skin tone. Other notable AHA’s are lactic acid (derived from milk), citric acid (derived from citrus), malic acid (derived from apples & pears), mandelic acid (derived from almonds) & tartric acid (derived from grapes).  Glycolic Acid is used in several ZO Products, but my fav is Glycogent!   Glycogent contains a 10% glycolic & lactic acid complex to gently exfoliate dead skin cells & stimulate epidermal renewal.

This industry will forever be evolving with new products and ingredients. But throughout the years, BHA & AHA acids have proven that when used properly & consistently – THEY WORK! You can find the products mentioned in this blog at Timeless Rx.  I do not recommend selecting an AHA or BHA product based on the information provided in this blog. Instead, come by Timeless Rx for a complementary skin care consultation. Let me help you improve your skin’s health & overall appearance!

If you have any questions regarding the information provided, or you would like to schedule your complementary skin care consultation, feel free to contact the clinic anytime at 985-893-6073. I look forward to it!

Your Esthetician,