Skincare Ingredients Glossary

A Step-by-Step Guide to Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids (Glycolic, Lactic and Salicylic Acids)

Alpha and Beta hydroxy acids are often found in anti-aging products, creams, and serums due to their potential to enhance the skin's outer appearance.
By Dermspotlight Staff,
Updated June 15, 2021
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What do Alpha and Beta hydroxy acids do for your skin?

Alpha and beta hydroxy acids don’t sound very appealing by name, but if you’re interested in improving the quality of your skin, we suggest you learn more about them. These acids have tremendous advantages in exfoliating and enhancing skin tone and texture.

If you suffer from acne, you should certainly give these products a try. Users with a skin condition will certainly benefit from the potent anti-inflammatory agents which can diminish redness in the skin.

There’s more than one type of alpha and beta hydroxy acid, therefore before you purchase a product you need to determine to right one for your particular condition. For example, lactic acid is for sensitive skin, while salicylic acid is for treating acne. If you want your face to be in excellent condition, consider trying alpha and beta hydroxy acids skincare.

What are alpha and beta hydroxy acids?

There’s a clear difference between alpha and beta hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids are from fruits rich in sugar, and they are water-soluble. They draw a tremendous amount of hydration to the skin, combatting dryness. There’s some evidence that they can increase the production of collagen and elastin, making the skin firmer and more elastic. Therefore this could have anti-aging benefits like eliminating wrinkles on the forehead and fine lines, dark circles under eyes, and bags under eyes. (1)

Some common alpha-hydroxy acids include lactic and glycolic acids. Lactic acid is the milder of the two, and it’s often used to even out skin tone and get rid of areas of pigmentation. In addition, it’s antimicrobial, and it deeply hydrates the skin. (2)

Glycolic acid is probably the best alpha hydroxy acid, because of its amazing ability to delve deep down and restore hydration. It also has anti-aging properties, as it leads to the production of collagen. This makes the skin firmer, consequently smoothing out wrinkles and frown lines. (3)

Beta hydroxy acids are oil-soluble, which allows them to penetrate deep into the skin. They can eliminate dead skin cells, oil, and unclog the pores. These acids are helpful for the treatment of acne scars. They are most suitable for people who have oily skin. In addition, they have potent anti-inflammatory properties which can effectively treat skin conditions. (4)

The most common beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid, which is for the treatment of acne. It penetrates the pores to exfoliate, removing oil and other substances, and killing bacteria. Additionally, it can get rid of areas of pigmentation on the skin. This acid is a peeling agent. (5)

What do alpha and beta hydroxy acids do?

The benefits of alpha and beta hydroxy acids for the skin are tremendous. They can exfoliate deeply, eliminate acne, moisturize the skin, provide anti-aging benefits like eliminating wrinkles under the eyes, lighten the skin, and lessen age spots and areas of pigmentation. These are some of the most potent skincare ingredients available. Therefore if you have skin problems, do some research on these substances and talk to your dermatologist about whether they are right for you.

What’s the difference between alpha and beta hydroxy acids?

The main difference between alpha & beta hydroxy acids is in what they do. Alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble and derived mostly from fruits, except for lactic acid which comes from dairy products. When it comes to the skin, this substance tends to remain more on the surface providing moisture and producing collagen.

Beta hydroxy acids are oil soluble and derived from a number of sources. Salicylic acid, for example, comes from the bark of a willow tree. This substance tends to work beneath the surface of the skin, delving deep to eliminate oils and dirt in the pores.

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Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids Products

1. Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids Toner

There are toner products that can contain both alpha and beta hydroxy acids. They travel deep under the skin and remove oils and dead cells, leaving the pores clean and smaller. The alpha and beta hydroxy acid toner will also clean off dead skin cells on the surface. This is an excellent treatment for acne. In addition, it can moisturize the skin, leave it feeling soft and smooth, and even out tone.

2. Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids for Acne

An acne product would most likely use a beta hydroxy acid, but it could use both to provide other benefits. This product will clean off the surface oils and dirt, and it will also penetrate deeply into your pores to get rid of dead skin cells, bacteria, and oils. This will leave your pores clean, and it should shrink their size.

3. Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids Cream

There are alpha and beta hydroxy acid cream available which provides great anti-aging and other benefits to the skin. The alpha creams produce additional collagen, which makes the skin firmer and more elastic. This can address skin dryness, age spots, crow’s feet, smooth out wrinkles and fine lines. The creams can also eliminate areas of pigmentation on the skin and moisturize. Furthermore, a beta cream can eliminate oily skin and help with skin conditions.

4. Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids Peel

You may find an alpha and beta hydroxy acid peel, but the most common agent which is used as a chemical peel is salicylic acid. This is due to its amazing ability to exfoliate. A salicylic acid peel is strongly recommended for people who have acne. They are also suggested for people who have wrinkles or scars. In a chemical peel, the solution goes on the surface of the skin, causing some temporary damage which heals and leaves you glowing. (5)

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Suggestions for Usage: Alpha & Beta Hydroxy Acids

Now that you’re aware of the great benefits of these products, you may be ready to purchase one. Before you use it, keep in mind these useful suggestions:

  • It’s always a good idea to go to a dermatologist before you try a new product. Have your skin screened for sensitivity or allergies, and make sure this is the right substance for you. Allergies to alpha and beta hydroxy acid can cause a skin reaction. You may also want to try a patch test before you use the product. Try some on a small area of skin first.
  • It can increase sun sensitivity, so make sure you use a good sunblock outside while you are using these products. They can increase the chance of burn and sun damage.
  • Try not to use alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid at the same time, although there are some products which do include both like Luminesce Jeunesse Global, IMAGE Skincare Products, Creme de La Mer, and The Ordinary AHA BHA. However, the combination can cause your skin to become dry and irritated. If this occurs, stop using both acids together and limit yourself to one.
  • Avoid alpha-beta hydroxy acids during pregnancy. It can penetrate the skin barrier, meaning it can get into your system and could be damaging. There are other, more gentle products like Instantly Ageless, SIO Beauty, and Nerium Skin Care that you can use during this time.

People Also Ask

Q: Do alpha and beta hydroxy acids have any shared benefits?

A: Yes, they do. They both exfoliate the skin, getting rid of dead skin cells, and unclogging the pores. In addition, they both provide anti-inflammatory benefits that can treat skin conditions. Both alpha and beta hydroxy acids can tone the skin.

Q: Which are better, alpha or beta hydroxy acids?

A: They are both very effective skincare substances. Which is better depends on the result you’re looking for. If you have acne or oily skin, try a beta hydroxy acid. If you want better anti-aging benefits or moisturizing, try an alpha hydroxy acid. Both have the ability to treat skin conditions and tone.

Q: How much alpha and beta hydroxy acid should I use?

A: Start out with a lower concentration of under 10% and work your way up as you see your skin’s reaction to the product.

Q: How do I use alpha and beta hydroxy acid?

A: It completely depends on the form you use. There are many products with this substance like Mario Badescu, Perricone MD, Obagi & Arbonne, from wrinkle creams to peels to toner. Consequently, each has its own individual instructions.

Q: Why are alpha and beta hydroxy acid products usually separate?

A: There are some products which include both alpha and beta hydroxy acid like Crepe Erase, Mary Kay Skin Care, Proactiv, Murad Skin Care, and Rodan + Fields. However, they are kept apart because together they make it more likely that you will have a skin reaction.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in enhancing the quality of your skin, don’t hesitate to go out and purchase an alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy product. These are highly effective substances which can leave you acne-free, moisturized, young-looking, and radiant. There are numerous products to choose from on the market such as Plexaderm Serum, Clinique 3 Step, Advanced Dermatology, and No. 7 Serum including alpha and beta hydroxy cleansers, moisturizers with alpha and beta hydroxy acids, toner with alpha and beta hydroxy acids, and alpha and a beta hydroxy peel.

Make sure you choose the right acid for the right purpose. For acne and inflammatory conditions, use beta hydroxy acid. If you’re looking for hydration and anti-aging benefits, you’re better off with an alpha hydroxy acid.

Many people have raved about the benefits alpha and beta hydroxy acids have provided them with. Therefore, we suggest that you begin with one product and see how it affects your skin. From there, we’re sure you’ll see the amazing benefits.

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Thomas King, MMedSci

By Thomas King, MMedSci

Dr. King has a special interest in medical education and has a Master’s degree in medical education from the University of Nottingham.