Best used: In PMCaution: Sensitive skin, sun sensitiveBest for: Anti aging, pigment, exfoliant
Comments: Dermatologist’s favourite Mode of action: Chemical exfoliant, Priming agentScience Score:



What is the science behind AHAs?

AHAs are the most commonly prescribed acids by dermatologists worldwide. AHA are one of the oldest skin care actives, first used by Egyptians over two thousand years ago. Their source? Lactic acid from sour milk. Other AHAs include, mandelic, citric & glycolic acid. The outcome of these acids depends on the pH and the concentration of actives. AHAs can be used as part of your daily routine, or as a super strength chemical peel performed by a skincare professional. AHAs function as a keratolytic or chemical exfoliant. In high concentrations they stimulate dermal fibroblasts to produce collagen.

What skin conditions can AHA’s treat?

Sun Damage including pigmentation + solar keratoses. Sunspots can be treated with higher concentration clinical peels, typically ranging from 30-70% Glycolic acid. A simple at home treatment consists of lactic acid 3-10% in a moisturising base.


Acne can be treated with AHAs or better still salicylic acid.  BHAs penetrate the oil gland better than AHAs & are also anti-inflammatory. Regardless, AHAs can still be useful to prevent blackheads, whiteheads, acne & pimples.


Enlarged Pores can respond to at home AHAs ranging from 8 to 15%. My favourite topical mix is to incorporate a good retinol formulation every second night with a 10 to 15% concentration of AHAs.


Melasma & pigmentation can be treated with AHAs including lactic & glycolic acid peels.


Anti-aging skin care routine can consist of AHAs alternating with retinoids-retinol. As a chemical exfoliant AHA can potentially increase penetration of other actives.

What are the skin benefits of AHAs?

Skin Brightening & pigment correction: Alpha Hydroxy Acids are frequently prescribed by dermatologists to treat pigmentation from conditions such as freckles, sun spots, post acne pigment, & freckles. AHAs promote skin cell turnover by acting as a strong chemical exfoliant.


Collagen stimulators: Much like retinoids & ascorbic acid, AHAs can stimulate collagen, hence why they are a popular ingredient to incorporate into your anti-aging skin care regimen. Though AHA lotions & creams can promote some collagen remodelling, clinical strength peels are much more effective.


Acne & blackheads: AHAs such as glycolic & lactic acid can loosen dead skin cells & oil within the sebaceous (oil) gland, thereby unclogging pores. This treats skin congestion, blackheads & acne. AHAs also can reduce the size of enlarged pores, which are often seen in acne prone & congested skin. Some acne products also contain weaker AHAs, such as citric and malic acids, to help soothe inflamed skin.

Anti-wrinkle effects: If you are into organic skincare & have not ventured to the Botox pathway, AHAs can reduce fine lines & wrinkles.  A study in 2015 reported that 9 out of 10 volunteers who used AHAs over a three-week period experienced significant improvements in overall skin texture. More robust studies have shown that glycolic acid peels in the order of 50-70% unbuffered yield better results.

Powerful chemical exfoliation is seen across the AHA range with glycolic & lactic acid the most powerful chemicals, whilst mandelic & citric acid are more gentle. Exfoliation refers to a process where the skin cells on the surface shed off either physically (scrubs, Clarisonic) or chemically (AHAs, BHAs, retinoic acid). Exfoliation  helps remove old skin cells but also makes way for new skin cell generation. As you age, your natural skin cell cycle slows down, which can make dead skin cells build up. Improved cell turnover through exfoliation can improve lumonisy & light transmission, making skin appear lighter & brighter.

AHAs. More Power To Actives. AHAs can make your existing products work better by increasing their skin absorption, a process termed skin priming. AHAs like glycolic acid can break through this layer of dead skin cells, enabling products such as retinol, niacinamide, ascorbic acid, antioxidants & pigment correctors to work harder. Note:Skin priming is not for everyone as patients with sensitive skin will not tolerate a sudden increase in product absorption.

What types of AHAs are there?

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are a group of acids used in a variety of skincare products. Formulations include washes, serums, toners, & creams. Dermatologists employ low pH low buffered alpha hydroxy clinical peels. AHAs commonly used in products available throughout the skincare industry include:

  • Citric acid (from citrus fruits)
  • Glycolic acid (from sugar cane)
  • Hydroxycaproic acid (from royal jelly)
  • Lactic acid (from lactose or other carbohydrates)
  • Malic acid (from fruits)

Tartaric acid (from grapes)

Davin’s Skin Protip on the use of Alpha Hydroxy Acids

AHAs form part of the foundation of dermatologically active ingredients. Medical dermatologists prescribe many compounded lactic & glycolic acid formulations when treating conditions like xerosis (dry skin), ichthyosis (genetic causes of dry skin) as well as sun damage. Melasma & pigmentation correctors are often formulated with glycolic acid, usually around the 5-10% concentration.


AHAs allow me to customise medium to deep chemical peels such as TCA . The classic formulation of Jessner comprises lactic, salicylic acid & resorcinol.

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