Acids play a key role in any anti-aging beauty routine, but there’s one little-known acid that may hold the key to youthful skin. PHAs, or polyhydroxy acids, are considered the perfect acid for people with sensitive skin, particularly for those who have tried other acids and found them too irritating.
Dr. Hextall, a dermatologist at the Tarrant Street Clinic, told Refinery29 that PHAs are “basically a more gentle form of AHAs.”
“As the molecules are larger, they can’t penetrate as deeply into the skin, so any exfoliation is more gentle,” she said. “They also have some antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which is also great for sensitive skin.”
PHAs are also considered humectants, which means that they retain moisture. Along with gentle exfoliation, PHAs help the skin retain moisture to further prevent fine lines and wrinkles.
For those with rosacea and skin that’s prone to eczema, PHAs can help strengthen the skin’s barrier. Because they are so gentle, PHAs can be used with retinoids for even more potent anti-aging effects.
Despite the benefits PHAs offer, they are still sparsely found in anti-aging products.
BHAs, AHAs and hyaluronic acid serums are still the foundations of most anti-aging beauty routines, although that may soon be changing.
AHAs are, arguably, the most frequently used ingredients in anti-aging products. Lactic, glycolic, mandelic and citric acids are commonly found in skincare products. While part of the same family, these AHAs each have different properties.
Glycolic acid controls oil production and the formation of acne. Citric and retinoic acid create a thicker dermis over time, which strengthens skin. Lactic acid reduces pigmentation while acting as an antimicrobial and breaking down the oil in clogged pores.
BHAs are another group of acids that are frequently used in skincare products, particularly those in the anti-aging category. One of the best-known acids in this family is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is best-known for its ability to combat and treat acne. With regular use, the acid breaks down the keratin that blocks pores and causes blemishes.
One other anti-aging all-star ingredient is retinol. While proven to be effective at preventing signs of aging, retinol can be harsh. Those with sensitive skin are often unable to tolerate this ingredient.
Still, retinol is a favorite among beauty gurus and celebrities. Kim Kardashian’s skincare routine includes a $10 retinol product – along with 14 other products.
Retinol and retinoids reduce the appearance of dark spots and improve the texture of your skin. It works by speeding up the cell turnover rate in the skin, which slows down as we age. They also shrink pores and help reduce blackheads.
While AHAs, BHAs and retinol are still the all-stars of the anti-aging world, PHAs are gaining attention.
These new “super acids” not only slow down the signs of aging, but they also combat glycation. Glycation is a natural chemical process that weakens the skin’s elastin and collagen over time. Rich in antioxidants, these acids also spur new growth and repair of the skin, making it appear plumper and firmer over time.