Understanding the Beta and Alpha Hydroxy Acid Difference

Skincare enthusiasts and beauty industry insiders have long been reaping the glow-boosting benefits of chemical exfoliants.

Now, with the arrival of the long-awaited ban on microbeads, a new generation of acid exfoliators have hit the mainstream.

If a problem-solving skincare your after, then knowing your alpha’s from your beta will be key.

There are two forms of exfoliating acids; alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, each of which brings things to the skin. Some exfoliants also combine both ingredients, allowing you to tackle multiple skin concerns at once

Your skin naturally goes through an exfoliation process, age, sun damage, and ageing slows cellular turnover down, so a boost from exfoliating products is often needed for glowy skin.

To get that youthful, glowing skin it needs a boost; exfoliating should be in your skincare repertoire.

If your a little confused about which one would be best for your skin, the results you can expect, and whether it’s a good idea to combine them.

Beta or alpha Hydroxy Acid

Active hydroxy acids, have several skin-loving benefits and here’s why:

  • balance skin tone
  • lighten pigmentation
  • help with extrinsic ageing
  • help to rejuvenate your skin
  • removes stubborn skin cells
  • improve the texture of your skin
  • they can help with collagen synthesis

How AHA’s and BHA’s differ

This all depends on your skin type, if you have an oily or combination skin type, then beta hydroxy acid in the form of salicylic acid will be your new best friend. They are more soluble in oil than in water and are often used in many acne products. Because they can reach deeper into the pores, they are more effective in reducing the sebum plugs that cause acne lesions to form.

However, if you want to perk up dry, depleted skin, or give your dull skin a kick start, then you could do a lot worse then reaching for the skin brightening qualities of alpha hydroxy acid.

Let’s look at the important differences between AHAs and BHAs:

Decreases oil: BHAs can reduce excess oil by slowing down sebum production. AHAs don’t have any effect on sebum.
The skin. solubility: AHAs dissolve in water, whilst BHAs are oil-soluble, so they dissolve in oils – this is important because it means they can pass through sebum and sebaceous follicles.
Target areas: AHAs exfoliating action takes place in the top layers of your skin, but BHAs work not only on your skin’s surface but also inside your pores.
Minimises pores: Technically, you can not shrink pores, despite what clever marketing claims tell you. but BHAs can help them look smaller by keeping them clean. AHA’s will not flush out the pore lining.
Concentration: BHAs only need to be a concentration of around 2% and some doses as low as 0.5 %. AHAs however, need to be used in concentrations of at least 8 %in order to be effective.
Prevents acne, blackheads and flushes out the pores: While both acids can help with mild acne, through resurfacing, BHAs also work on a deeper level to clear trapped sebum in the follicular wall, they offer mild anti-bacterial properties, prevent bacteria in the pore and new breakouts from forming. They also slow the flow of oil on the surface of the skin and loosen blackheads and whiteheads, making them easier to extract.
Irritation: Any acid can be drying and irritating if you use it at the wrong concentration or pH, or if you apply it too frequently for your skin. However, AHAs are more often associated with irritation, redness and inflammation. BHAs tend to be less irritating, thanks to their larger molecule sizes. They also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Skin wounding: BHAs are non-wounding agents, they have a physiological role on your skin, loosening the bonds between the skin layers and in the pores. AHAs are considered skin-wounding ingredients, especially the stronger chemical peels – which encourage cells to self-destruct through a process referred to as apoptosis – cell death.

Should you be concerned about apoptosis? If you are consistently using potent AHAs then it may be a cause for concern, as discussed here.

Alpha hydroxy acids

AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acid—a type of acid derived from sugarcane, milk or fruit.

They work more commonly referred to as AHA’s on the surface of your skin; they are water-soluble, they gently dissolve bonds between the dead skin cells so that they can be easily removed, making way for a smoother surface. They are generally preferred for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin, due to their ability to enhance your natural moisturising factor.

The most popular alpha hydroxy acids are: Glycolic acid, whilst lactic, mandelic and citric acids are other examples.

Beta hydroxy acids

There is only one beta hydroxy acid – more commonly known as salicylic acid because it is oil-soluble it can penetrate beneath the skin’s surface, that softens and dissolve keratin, a protein that forms part of the skin structure, which helps to loosen dead skin cells, so they’re easily sloughed off, cleaning out excess oil from your pores and reducing oiliness.

It’s most often preferred for normal to oily skin prone to bumps, clogs, blemishes, and enlarged pores. BHA also has natural skin-calming properties, so it’s gentle enough for skin sensitive or prone to redness, so it’s great for acne inflammation.

What’s the Conclusion?

AHA’s to help reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles while also aiding in improving skin texture.

The skin rejuvenating alpha hydroxy properties give your skin that much-needed boost, restoring your skin to a youthful glow.

This is because the molecules of alpha hydroxy acids are smaller than those of beta hydroxy acids, allowing them to penetrate the skin quickly so that you have almost instant results.

For oily and acne-prone skin types, use a product with salicylic acid, a BHA, to help balance oil and control acne; This is because beta hydroxy acids are essentially lipid soluble ingredients, which means they can penetrate the sebaceous oily glands, so are the best option for those battling pimples and blackheads.

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