A question often asked on social media is to do with AHA’s and BHA’s. For those of you who are not familiar with these are they are acids that exfoliate the skin and are often found in skin care products. AHA is short for Alpha Hydroxy Acid and BHA is short for Beta Hydroxy Acid.
People often want to know which one they should use or if they could use products containing both.
Before I answer that question I would like to talk about our skin structure. The outer most layer of our skin is made up of between 15-30 layers of dead skin cells, stacked up on top of each other like a brick wall. We used to think that these layers where dead, useless skin cells. These cells should normally shed away but sometimes they build up and the skin can feel rough and look dull. Because the skin looks and feels smoother when we remove these cells, exfoliation has become a regular part of our skin care routine.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, we started to exfoliate our skin’s on a deeper level. The hope was that this might smooth out our wrinkles, unblock our pores and reduce pigmentation. One of the first products to arrive in New Zealand that enabled us to do this was AHA’s, followed closely by BHA’s.
But our knowledge of skin has advanced since the 1980’s. We now know that this supposedly dead layer is actually very metabolically active. It is also vitally important, being the main protective layer shielding the immature, live cells beneath. Removing it opens your skin up to premature ageing as these young, delicate cells can easily be damaged by sun exposure and other environmental threats.
These acids can make existing pigmentation look less obvious by sloughing off cells that already contain pigment. But they also make your skin more prone to developing further pigmentation because the UV rays can now reach the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) much easier. So instead of offering solutions for our skin, these deep peeling options actually did the opposite.
We now also know that you have a naturally occurring enzyme in your skin that is able to exfoliate your skin. The problem is that this enzyme requires a degree of hydration in order to function. If the very outer layer of your skin gets too water dry, this enzyme stops working and the cells build up, making your skin feels like it needs exfoliation. The answer is to rehydrate the upper layers by soaking your skin and then lock that precious moisture in with the application of your skincare products. If you do this, your skin will hardly ever need exfoliation but even better, it will still have its protective layer.
So, to answer the question about AHA’s and BHA’s, in my professional opinion you shouldn’t use either because they are both an aggressive form of exfoliation and compromise your skin’s protection. Instead, soak your skin and lock it in to keep the upper layers of your skin hydrated and promote optimum enzyme action. This will enable you to have soft, velvety skin that may benefit from the occasional gentle exfoliation with something like the Janesce Gentle Enzyme Peel or Gentle Clearing Wash.