Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Shreya Singh (Pharmacist)  on 16th Oct 2020

Confused about AHAs? Know Your Exfoliants! Read the Benefits of Glycolic, Mandelic & Lactic Acid

Vitamin C with Hyaluronic Acid

Do you feel lost and bewildered when choosing from an array of face acids?

Not sure which type of AHA you should incorporate into your skincare routine? Fret not! We have got you covered!

Acids are a rage in skincare these days. It seems like every other brand is launching its formulation of face acids, changing the face of the beauty market dramatically.

Slathering a layer of face acid all over your face might be pretty intimidating for many people out there, primarily when they associate acids with harsh chemicals that are strong for their skin causing chemical burns, irritation, redness, and whatnot.

But the truth is, when appropriately used in the right concentration, a face acid can prove to be a massive boon for your skin, transforming it to the next level. And the trick lies in choosing the right acid that is best suited for your specific skin type to achieve the desired results.


So, to cut through the clutter, we have done all the pre-research work for you. And in this article, we will be breaking down all the commonly used AHAs to help provide some clarity so that you could decide your best fit for your specific skin type. 

First off, why does your skin need exfoliation? 

As we know, our first impressions are always considered as a lasting one. And when someone approaches us, our face is the first thing that they notice. And what would anyone's first impression be if our skin looks dull and flaky? Not a great one, right?

Exfoliation is the best and safest way to enhance your skin's health and visual appearance. When your skin is riddled with layers of dead skin cells, your pores expand, oiliness increases, pigmentation doesn't fade away, and fine lines look more prominent, leading to congested and lackluster skin, which is prone to breakouts and acne. 

Regular exfoliation can help prevent all of these by buffing away the dead skin cells build-up to reveal the fresh, blemish-free, and luminous skin beneath. 

And the best exfoliation method that one should use? Chemical exfoliation

Ironically, chemical exfoliation is far more safe and mild on the skin.  

Unlike the physical exfoliators that work on the skin's superficial layers to visibly remove dead, dull surface cells, which often cause micro-tears, more harm than good is done to the skin.

Chemical exfoliants work by gently sloughing off the lingering dead skin cells and debris collected on the topmost layer of the skin.

And as it is rightly believed, "If you don't shed that dead skin, nothing can sink in."
Therefore, as a bonus, exfoliation also helps your makeup and other skincare products perform and absorb better.

Face acids in the category of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are the most effective and well-known ways to exfoliate your skin. But which one to choose from the plethora of options available? Here's a brief description for your reference: 

1). Glycolic Acid:

What is it? 

Touted as an anti-acne agent, glycolic acid is the most potent of all the other AHAs that derms swear by. It is a colorless, odorless AHA derived from sugarcane.

Owing to its smallest molecular size, it is the most effective among all other AHAs, which can penetrate deeper into the skin layers even at low concentrations. 

What is its primary function? 

It is extensively researched among all other AHAs and yields the most dramatic results. Some of its prime benefits include: 

  • Functions as a powerful exfoliant by working on the top as well as deeper skin layers. It effectively unglues and loosens up the dead skin cells sticking to the surface of your skin and helps in shedding them off, unveiling smooth, brighter, baby-soft skin. 
  • Stimulates fibroblasts in the skin, which bumps up collagen production, thereby smoothing out fine lines & wrinkles and keeping your skin youthful and vibrant. 
  • Its peeling action helps re-texturize the skin's surface, fading pigmentation and dark spots, making your skin flawless and even-toned. 
  • As it unclogs pores and diminishes excess sebum production, it is proven to be an effective treatment for almost all acne types. 

Who should use it? 

It is best suitable for normal, combination, and oily skin types.

But since it is a powerful acid, you can run the risk of skin irritation or burns, and therefore, it might not be for everyone.

People with dry, highly sensitive skin can often react to it with redness and other adverse effects. Those with a compromised skin barrier should also refrain from using it too frequently to avert any adverse outcomes. 

How often can you use it? 

If you're starting with glycolic acid and concerned about irritation, take it slow by using once or twice a week and gradually work your way up as your skin acclimatizes.

A concentration of 10% or below is usually found in products containing glycolic acid.

2). Lactic Acid 

What is it? 

Lactic has been praised by dermatologists worldwide for being gentle yet useful for the skin. It is the best-researched AHA after glycolic acid and is derived from milk or synthetically produced.

It is an effective multi-tasker that is beneficial for dehydrated, congested, and lackluster skin. 

What is its primary function?

  • Owing to its larger molecular size as that of glycolic acid, it mildly exfoliates the skin by swapping off dead skin cells and works most of its way on the topmost skin layer. 
  • It helps brighten the complexion by boosting the rate of cell turnover and paving the way for new and younger cells to grow. It also helps in reducing discoloration, so you get a blemish-free, brighter, and clearer skin. 
  • Interestingly, where all the acids are known for drying your skin out, it bumps up the hydration levels by increasing water retention in your skin. Therefore, it is conducive to making your skin more resilient and moisturized. 
  • It is also a popular anti-aging ingredient which exhibits collagen-stimulating properties. 

Who should use it? 

Lactic acid is well-tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin. It is gentler on the skin and typically causes less irritation than glycolic acid.

But as with any face acid, it's essential to use it wisely. Avoid using it on irritated or red skin.

It is used in different concentrations to address various issues. In lower concentrations, it works as a humectant by drawing moisture within the skin. At the same time, its higher concentration is used as a potent exfoliator. 

How often can you use it? 

It can be used 2-3 times a week when starting with a gradual increase in the frequency as your skin tolerates. One should avoid its overuse as it can lend itself to irritation.

In a clinical study, 10-12% Lactic acid was found useful for removing dead cells while anything less than 5% has no significant effect on skin texture or tone. 

Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%
Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%

Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%

₹ 589
A skin-regenerating daily serum with 10% Lactic Acid and 1% Hyaluronic Acid that mildly exfoliates without drying the skin to reveal clear, radiant, and hydrated skin.
View details

3). Mandelic Acid

What is it? 

Mandelic acid is the "sensitive skin hero," even gentler on the skin than glycolic and lactic acid.

It was initially derived from the hydrolysis of an extract of bitter almonds.

Its antibacterial properties have been most extensively studied for its use in treating acne and can also be called an "acne perisher."

It not only improves the skin's overall texture but also helps brighten your skin tone

What is its primary function? 

  • Due to its significantly larger molecular size, it penetrates the skin at a much slower rate to cause superficial exfoliation while causing minimal irritation. 
  • It exhibits antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which help curb acne-causing bacteria's growth and suppress the inflammation associated with inflamed acne. 
  • It also helps in keeping your oil production in check, leading to fewer breakouts altogether and, thus, acting as an effective acne-fighting ingredient
  • It is the star player in speeding up the fading process of pigmentation and dark spots by peeling away the uppermost layers of the skin and promoting cell turnover. 

Who should use it? 

Mandelic acid is better tolerable for people with super sensitive skin, including dry and mature skin. In general, those with acne-prone skin looking for an exfoliant that is less harsh than other traditional AHAs can use this acid.

Since it is the mildest in the family of AHAs, it could be your first face acid. 

How often can you use it? 

Mandelic acid can be used as a mild regular exfoliant. However, like any other AHA, mandelic acid also has some possibility of irritating your skin &, therefore, should be used with caution.

Its potential risks are few to none, and even people with super sensitive skin can slap on this acid on their coat without experiencing any adverse effects.  

Good to know.

The order of the strength of alpha-hydroxy acids ranging from most vital to mildest can be depicted as:

Glycolic acid > Lactic acid > Mandelic acid (depending on their molecular sizes and level of penetration)

Therefore, for people who are newbies to the world of face acids, mandelic acid could be their safest bet to start with. 

Key Takeaways: 

AHAs could be the one-stop solution for a myriad of skin concerns, but one should know which one to use.

These days, there are all sorts of face acids available in the market, including the most gentle types like the mandelic acid to up to potent ones like the glycolic and lactic acids.

Long story short, If you have a dry or sensitive skin type, you may want to go with gentle exfoliating acids like the mandelic or lactic acid.

In contrast, those with normal, combination or oily skin can hop on with powerful ones like the glycolic acid. 

TIP:

Performing a patch test is a non-negotiable step before using a face acid for its generalized use. Also, since exfoliation works by exposing the fresh and younger skin cells to the surface, always equip your skin with adequate sunscreen like an SPF of at least 30 or above before stepping out. 

Do you feel lost and bewildered when choosing from an array of face acids?

Not sure which type of AHA you should incorporate into your skincare routine? Fret not! We have got you covered!

Acids are a rage in skincare these days. It seems like every other brand is launching its formulation of face acids, changing the face of the beauty market dramatically.

Slathering a layer of face acid all over your face might be pretty intimidating for many people out there, primarily when they associate acids with harsh chemicals that are strong for their skin causing chemical burns, irritation, redness, and whatnot.

But the truth is, when appropriately used in the right concentration, a face acid can prove to be a massive boon for your skin, transforming it to the next level. And the trick lies in choosing the right acid that is best suited for your specific skin type to achieve the desired results.


So, to cut through the clutter, we have done all the pre-research work for you. And in this article, we will be breaking down all the commonly used AHAs to help provide some clarity so that you could decide your best fit for your specific skin type. 

First off, why does your skin need exfoliation? 

As we know, our first impressions are always considered as a lasting one. And when someone approaches us, our face is the first thing that they notice. And what would anyone's first impression be if our skin looks dull and flaky? Not a great one, right?

Exfoliation is the best and safest way to enhance your skin's health and visual appearance. When your skin is riddled with layers of dead skin cells, your pores expand, oiliness increases, pigmentation doesn't fade away, and fine lines look more prominent, leading to congested and lackluster skin, which is prone to breakouts and acne. 

Regular exfoliation can help prevent all of these by buffing away the dead skin cells build-up to reveal the fresh, blemish-free, and luminous skin beneath. 

And the best exfoliation method that one should use? Chemical exfoliation

Ironically, chemical exfoliation is far more safe and mild on the skin.  

Unlike the physical exfoliators that work on the skin's superficial layers to visibly remove dead, dull surface cells, which often cause micro-tears, more harm than good is done to the skin.

Chemical exfoliants work by gently sloughing off the lingering dead skin cells and debris collected on the topmost layer of the skin.

And as it is rightly believed, "If you don't shed that dead skin, nothing can sink in."
Therefore, as a bonus, exfoliation also helps your makeup and other skincare products perform and absorb better.

Face acids in the category of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are the most effective and well-known ways to exfoliate your skin. But which one to choose from the plethora of options available? Here's a brief description for your reference: 

1). Glycolic Acid:

What is it? 

Touted as an anti-acne agent, glycolic acid is the most potent of all the other AHAs that derms swear by. It is a colorless, odorless AHA derived from sugarcane.

Owing to its smallest molecular size, it is the most effective among all other AHAs, which can penetrate deeper into the skin layers even at low concentrations. 

What is its primary function? 

It is extensively researched among all other AHAs and yields the most dramatic results. Some of its prime benefits include: 

  • Functions as a powerful exfoliant by working on the top as well as deeper skin layers. It effectively unglues and loosens up the dead skin cells sticking to the surface of your skin and helps in shedding them off, unveiling smooth, brighter, baby-soft skin. 
  • Stimulates fibroblasts in the skin, which bumps up collagen production, thereby smoothing out fine lines & wrinkles and keeping your skin youthful and vibrant. 
  • Its peeling action helps re-texturize the skin's surface, fading pigmentation and dark spots, making your skin flawless and even-toned. 
  • As it unclogs pores and diminishes excess sebum production, it is proven to be an effective treatment for almost all acne types. 

Who should use it? 

It is best suitable for normal, combination, and oily skin types.

But since it is a powerful acid, you can run the risk of skin irritation or burns, and therefore, it might not be for everyone.

People with dry, highly sensitive skin can often react to it with redness and other adverse effects. Those with a compromised skin barrier should also refrain from using it too frequently to avert any adverse outcomes. 

How often can you use it? 

If you're starting with glycolic acid and concerned about irritation, take it slow by using once or twice a week and gradually work your way up as your skin acclimatizes.

A concentration of 10% or below is usually found in products containing glycolic acid.

2). Lactic Acid 

What is it? 

Lactic has been praised by dermatologists worldwide for being gentle yet useful for the skin. It is the best-researched AHA after glycolic acid and is derived from milk or synthetically produced.

It is an effective multi-tasker that is beneficial for dehydrated, congested, and lackluster skin. 

What is its primary function?

  • Owing to its larger molecular size as that of glycolic acid, it mildly exfoliates the skin by swapping off dead skin cells and works most of its way on the topmost skin layer. 
  • It helps brighten the complexion by boosting the rate of cell turnover and paving the way for new and younger cells to grow. It also helps in reducing discoloration, so you get a blemish-free, brighter, and clearer skin. 
  • Interestingly, where all the acids are known for drying your skin out, it bumps up the hydration levels by increasing water retention in your skin. Therefore, it is conducive to making your skin more resilient and moisturized. 
  • It is also a popular anti-aging ingredient which exhibits collagen-stimulating properties. 

Who should use it? 

Lactic acid is well-tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin. It is gentler on the skin and typically causes less irritation than glycolic acid.

But as with any face acid, it's essential to use it wisely. Avoid using it on irritated or red skin.

It is used in different concentrations to address various issues. In lower concentrations, it works as a humectant by drawing moisture within the skin. At the same time, its higher concentration is used as a potent exfoliator. 

How often can you use it? 

It can be used 2-3 times a week when starting with a gradual increase in the frequency as your skin tolerates. One should avoid its overuse as it can lend itself to irritation.

In a clinical study, 10-12% Lactic acid was found useful for removing dead cells while anything less than 5% has no significant effect on skin texture or tone. 

Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%
Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%

Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1%

₹ 589
A skin-regenerating daily serum with 10% Lactic Acid and 1% Hyaluronic Acid that mildly exfoliates without drying the skin to reveal clear, radiant, and hydrated skin.
View details

3). Mandelic Acid

What is it? 

Mandelic acid is the "sensitive skin hero," even gentler on the skin than glycolic and lactic acid.

It was initially derived from the hydrolysis of an extract of bitter almonds.

Its antibacterial properties have been most extensively studied for its use in treating acne and can also be called an "acne perisher."

It not only improves the skin's overall texture but also helps brighten your skin tone

What is its primary function? 

  • Due to its significantly larger molecular size, it penetrates the skin at a much slower rate to cause superficial exfoliation while causing minimal irritation. 
  • It exhibits antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which help curb acne-causing bacteria's growth and suppress the inflammation associated with inflamed acne. 
  • It also helps in keeping your oil production in check, leading to fewer breakouts altogether and, thus, acting as an effective acne-fighting ingredient
  • It is the star player in speeding up the fading process of pigmentation and dark spots by peeling away the uppermost layers of the skin and promoting cell turnover. 

Who should use it? 

Mandelic acid is better tolerable for people with super sensitive skin, including dry and mature skin. In general, those with acne-prone skin looking for an exfoliant that is less harsh than other traditional AHAs can use this acid.

Since it is the mildest in the family of AHAs, it could be your first face acid. 

How often can you use it? 

Mandelic acid can be used as a mild regular exfoliant. However, like any other AHA, mandelic acid also has some possibility of irritating your skin &, therefore, should be used with caution.

Its potential risks are few to none, and even people with super sensitive skin can slap on this acid on their coat without experiencing any adverse effects.  

Good to know.

The order of the strength of alpha-hydroxy acids ranging from most vital to mildest can be depicted as:

Glycolic acid > Lactic acid > Mandelic acid (depending on their molecular sizes and level of penetration)

Therefore, for people who are newbies to the world of face acids, mandelic acid could be their safest bet to start with. 

Key Takeaways: 

AHAs could be the one-stop solution for a myriad of skin concerns, but one should know which one to use.

These days, there are all sorts of face acids available in the market, including the most gentle types like the mandelic acid to up to potent ones like the glycolic and lactic acids.

Long story short, If you have a dry or sensitive skin type, you may want to go with gentle exfoliating acids like the mandelic or lactic acid.

In contrast, those with normal, combination or oily skin can hop on with powerful ones like the glycolic acid. 

TIP:

Performing a patch test is a non-negotiable step before using a face acid for its generalized use. Also, since exfoliation works by exposing the fresh and younger skin cells to the surface, always equip your skin with adequate sunscreen like an SPF of at least 30 or above before stepping out.