Basics of glow (from acids) - AHA (alpha hydroxy acid)

by Azraëlle I. June 19, 2017

Basics of glow (from acids) - AHA (alpha hydroxy acid)

Let’s sit down and talk about what’s under the skin but isn’t skin deep at all, eh? In fact, let’s discuss chemical exfoliation and why everyone should practise it.

The word ‘chemical exfoliation’ itself may not sound like the epitome of pleasantness and something you would voluntary do. More like something you would intuitively try to avoid at any cost. Here is why exfoliating is vital and you should consider starting with it.

As you may already know, your skin already sheds on a regular basis, as your skin renews itself. Your outmost skin layer basically consists of dead skin cells. You lose between 30 000 and 40 000 skin cells a minute. This is nothing to worry about – your epidermis is always making new skin cells to replace the old ones. 95% of the cells in your epidermis work for your skin renewal, which is pretty impressive. So far, so good. New cells rise to the top and old cells shed – a perfect cycle.

Unfortunately every system is prone to disturbing factors and our skin is no exception. Oily skin, sun damage, dry skin, loss of estrogen, psoriasis or rosacea can interfere with our natural exfoliation process. The skin exfoliation process becomes inefficient, a buildup occurs. Blemishes, blackheads, rough skin, dry patches or discoloration occur, fine lines become more visible.

This is where AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid) come in. They both exfoliate the dead skin cells but serve different purposes and work differently. And yes, these two can be combined.


Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) such as Citric Acid (derived from lemons), Malic Acid (derived from apples), Lactic Acid (milk acid) or Tartaric Acid (wine acid) have the ability to work on the surface of your skin and are water-soluble.

Purpose of AHA

The mentioned facts about alpha hydroxy acids make them your perfect weapon of choice if you suffer from:

  • dry and flaky skin
  • uneven skin tone
  • dull skin
  • sun damage
  • fine lines
  • if you want to work on the moisture level of your skin

However, these acids don’t dissolve the dead skin cells themselves. Think of AHAs as of scissors, who help you cut the threads between old skin cells and new skin cells. In order for your AHA product to be effective and do their magic they should have the pH level between 3 and 4. If the pH level is below 3, it would irritate or even burn your skin (we never encountered a product with a lower pH level than 3 though) and if it’s higher than 4, it simply wont work. 

How (often) to use

Whatever AHA product you choose – start slowly and don’t over-exfoliate or you will end up with flaky looking skin. Don’t mistake flaking for exfoliation. It is best to start with exfoliating 2-3 times a week. After applying your AHA, wait until it’s fully absorbed and continue with your skin care routine. It is absolutely crucial to use sunscreen in conjunction with AHA. Even if you apply it in the evening, make sure to wear appropriate SPF the next day as AHA increases the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. If you are using retinol (often found in anti-age products), try not to use it on days when you exfoliate. Another important thing to consider is to apply AHA right after cleansing and toning the skin and let it sink in entirely.

Our holy grails

When it comes to chemical peels, our beauty editors have each their own favourites. We tried to narrow it down as much as we could. Here are the top 3.


An apple a day keeps the wrinkles away. Say farewell to the closed comedones, flaky skin and dull skin. We love COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid for it’s ‘Look at me – I’ve just had a facial treatment. I ain’t just glowing – I’m a hyperbeam.’-effect it provides the next day (most of us exfoliate in the evening). Enriched with niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and the soothing panthenol it hydrates your skin while helping you getting rid of dead skin cells.


Our favourite Vitamin C serum has got to be KLAIRS Freshly Juices Vitamin Drop. Broccoli extract, Citrus extract, Centella Asiatica extract & 5% L-Ascorbic acid – gentle exfoliation and nourishment, which make this serum suitable for all skin types. Editor’s tip: mix 2 drops with your moisturiser.

Azraëlle I.
Azraëlle I.


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