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Which AHA is Best for Your Skin?

Exfoliating the skin regularly is an easy way to keep it soft and smooth but the inclusion of AHA-heavy products can also take care of other concerns, from acne to hyperpigmentation, but which one is right for your skin?

Glycolic Acid

Best for… All skin types, especially blocked pores and uneven texture

Derived from sugar cane, Glycolic Acid is the most popular AHA used in topical skin care today. This is because it was one of the first exfoliating acids to get the green light for widespread use and has an impressive ability to clear up a number of skin concerns. It has the smallest molecular structure of all Alpha-Hydroxy Acids meaning it can penetrate the skin incredibly quickly and get to work on loosening all the dead cells from the surface of the epidermis. Regular application of a Glycolic Acid based product can help to improve natural cell turnover and increase collagen production, so the skin becomes smoother, firmer and more radiant after just a few days. It can also draw moisture to the skin, preventing it from drying out and reducing the amount of recovery time needed following the initial application.

Lactic Acid

Best for… Sensitive, dry and mature skin types

Some AHAs can be quite intense and drying on the skin making them unsuitable for more sensitive complexions but not Lactic Acid. Extracted from soured milk, Lactic Acid is gentler and less aggressive in terms of exfoliation so it can be used by those with sensitive skin or who are new to chemical exfoliators. It has quite a large molecular structure so the skin absorbs it very slowly which reduces the possibility of it causing a reaction or irritation. Although it is milder in concentration it is still incredibly effective at removing dead skin cells while also increasing the strength of the skin’s lipid barrier by upping the moisture content of the epidermis, making it more resilient to external damage. Lactic Acid is great for brightening dull complexions and correcting hyperpigmentation but its antibacterial properties mean it can also be used on acne-prone skins.

Mandelic Acid

Best for… Sensitive skin types suffering from acne

Derived from bitter almonds, Mandelic Acid is more than just an effective exfoliator. One of the lesser known AHAs, it is the best option for those with very oily, congested or acne-prone skin types due to its ability to reduce sebum production without drying out the skin. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that calm angry breakouts and pigment correcting properties that help reduce old blemish marks and sun damage (particularly in darker skin tones). Mandelic Acid is the perfect AHA for those who have experienced irritation from other exfoliating acids or whose skin tends to react badly to grainy face scrubs.

Tartaric Acid

Best for… Most skin types, particularly those lacking radiance

Not the most commonly used AHA, Tartaric Acid is derived from fermented dark grapes and is more popular in the culinary world as an ingredient to give something a sour taste. In skin care it is less transformative than other exfoliating acids due to its large molecular shape, meaning it only works on the very top layers of the skin so it takes longer for your complexion to show any improvements. It is a good option for those whose skin is in a relatively good condition but just want to boost their natural glow although it can also help to reduce the appearance of mild skin complaints such as blemishes and fine lines.

Malic Acid

Best for… Mature and sensitive skin types

Similar to Glycolic Acid but not as irritating, many skin types can benefit from Malic Acid in their products. Derived from fermented fruits, mainly apples and pears, this AHA is slowly getting more popular thanks to its ability to make skin feel noticeably smoother, softer and plumper. It is a natural humectant meaning it doesn’t dry out the skin and has antioxidant properties which can help fight off free radical damage. This AHA is ideal for those with sensitive skin who struggle to use harsher chemical exfoliators and it can prove a great asset to products aimed at mature skins suffering with areas of sun damage.

Citric Acid

Best for… sun damaged and congested skin

Citric Acid is naturally present in citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and limes, and is primarily used for its antioxidant benefits but it also functions as a natural preservative. This acid is used in different types of skin care products, but only in small amounts due to its high acidity and astringent properties. Like most acids, it exfoliates the skin to remove blockages from within the pores and dead cells from the surface to make skin feel smoother. It has also been shown to support skin barrier function by maintaining the optimum pH level of the skin.


One thing to note of all the AHAs mentioned here is that they make the skin more sun sensitive and prone to damage, so the application of a daily sunscreen is incredibly important in order to keep the skin healthy. It is best to apply a chemical exfoliator at night as this allows the product time to work into the skin while you sleep and ensures that it won’t be degraded by the sun’s rays.

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