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Everything You Need to Know About Acids in Skincare

You have probably heard that acids are good for your skin and you may recognise acronyms such as AHA, BHA and PHA. But what do these abbreviations mean and what effects do these acids have on the skin? And, perhaps most importantly, which acid suits your skin?

Common to the different types of acid is that they exfoliate the skin, ie they help to loosen the very outer layer of old skin cells. The result is a smoother skin surface that has a healthier appearance.


AHAs, or Alpha Hydroxy Acids, are a group of acids that are naturally found in, among other things, fruit, milk and sugar cane. The AHAs are exfoliating to varying degrees, with glycolic acid being the most powerful in the group.

Mature skin: AHAs help increase the skin's cell renewal, which helps to smooth out scars and wrinkles and even out pigmentation. 

Dry skin: Lactic acid suits a dry skin best as it binds well with moisture in the skin.

Sensitive skin: This group also includes mandelic acid, which is ideal for a slightly more sensitive skin type or acne-prone skin due to its anti-inflammatory effect.


BHAs, or Beta Hydroxy Acids, are a group of acids predominantly made up of salicylic acid in skin care. This acid (which we find in the drug acetylsalicylic acid) is found naturally in the tree white willow (salix alba).

Oily skin: BHA is fat-soluble and has anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it excellent for oily skin, clogged pores or inflamed acne. Salicylic acid goes down into the pores and dissolves excess sebum.

Mature skin: BHA increases cell renewal, which gives great results on fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage. 


PHAs, or Poly Hydroxy Acids, have larger molecules than the AHAs, which means that they penetrate more slowly into the skin and thus do not exfoliate as strongly as AHAs and BHA. PHAs also bind moisture to the skin and acts as antioxidants. Examples of PHAs in skin care are gluconolactone and lactobionic acid.

Sensitive and dry skin: These mild acids are excellent for all types of sensitive and dry skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea.

Mature skin: Their antioxidant benefits will help to protect the skin's collagen against degradation.


Generally yes, but you should always consult a dermatologist before so that you get the right combination for your skin type. It is important that the products do not clash with each other in pH or become too strong for your skin.


It is especially important to apply a high factor UV protection when using acids, as the skin may become more sensitive to the sun. You should also be a little more careful with your acids during times when you know that you will be spending a lot of time in the sun, for example, use them only in the evening or take a complete break during a holiday in the sun.


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