Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 08th Oct 2020

What are PHAs? How to incorporate this exemplary acid in your skincare routine

What are PHAs

In the whole rage of AHAs and BHAs doing wonders for you. It’s time to be curious about the new buzz in the skincare industry, the PHAs. The skin-curious collective has fallen deeply in love with the acid-infused skincare formulas. The new mania is acids that resurface, exfoliate, cleanse, and make the skin glow.

When we finally caught up with the AHA and BHA business, PHA came in. This new acid breed has risen and has its tactics to make us fall in love with yet another acid-infused chemical formula.  

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So what are PHAs exactly?  

PHA’s are just the updated version of alpha-hydroxy acids, the chemical exfoliant. While AHAs are also here to stay, PHA brings some updates that we all are bound to like.

PHAs do everything that AHAs did, hydration, younger-looking skin, exfoliating, epidermal skin turnover. So, why the buzz?  

Why is it so special?  

Because it is your new savior, if you are sensitive to other exfoliating acids, you can fall hook, line, and sinker with PHAs; without having to dwell on side effects.

Products infused with this exceptional acid deserve the buzz and value it is graced with due to its efficacy in addressing skin issues like dryness, pigmentation, wrinkles, acne, and dullness.

AHAs and BHAs are not valuable solutions for redness, dryness, and flaking for super reactive skin. PHAs swoop in here as a gentler, milder alternative for enthusiasts who could not use such acids and experience their exfoliating efficacy.  

Understanding PHA.
How has this acid entered the league of “superacids”?  

Polyhydroxy acids are the ‘cousins’ of alpha-hydroxy acids, and also the second generation AHAs. PHAs like AHAs are chemical exfoliants but with a larger molecular size. This structure is what makes PHAs unique and new generation. The more massive molecular system ensures that the PHAs do not penetrate deep into the skin but instead work on the skin’s surface and outer layers.

Besides, PHAs also work by exfoliating dead skin cells, weakening the bond between them, which results in a comparatively even skin tone and texture. It also helps skincare ingredients reach deeper layers of the skin, allowing them to serve better.  

PHAs have a water connection  

PHAs, like AHAs, bind water molecules to the skin helping the skin stay hydrated. They are less sensitizing, skin smoothening, moisturizing, exfoliating, and anti-aging in nature.

PHAs fight glycation, a process in which the digested sugar permanently attaches to the collagen in your skin, possibly weakening it, along with elastin levels. The acid is antioxidants fatty and a stimulator of epidermal growth and repair.

Sensitive skin conditions like rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and eczema, intolerable to AHAs and BHAs can trust PHAs on an excellent outcome. PHAs also improve clogged pores, breakouts, pigmentation through photoaging, sun damage, and UV exposed skin.

The PHA family has Lactobionic acid, gluconolactone acid, and galactose acid as the most common members thriving in the skincare and cosmetics industry. Lactobionic is derived from milk, whereas gluconolactone is derived from corn.

The long list of Godsent PHA’s benefits

PHAs are the buzz, and if rightly so, then why? What is it bringing to your table?

According to Dr. Dray

polyhydroxy acids hydrate the skin, but at the same time, they can gently remove the damaged and discolored skin cells. They help brighten the appearance of skin. They can remove some superficial hyperpigmentation, discoloration, sunspots that can be cleared more expeditiously.

This is done with the help of a moisturizer or topical product that contains polyhydroxy acids.they increase firmness, suppleness, smoothness and improve the overall luminosity of the skin.

There is an overwhelming list of benefits that you can experience

The following are the main ones and specify how the molecular change in this one peculiar acid changes so many things and ruffles so many beautiful feathers. 

1. Thirsty skin?

Not any more! PHAs have skin moisturizing capabilities and provide additional moisturizing and humectant properties as compared to AHAs. Simplified, humectant property is the ability of the skin to preserve and retain moisture.

This allows the skin to be plump and glow, and moving further improves the skin barrier function.   

2. What's Photoaging?

Photoaging is when you start to age due to your skin being in continuous exposure to damaging UV rays. The research found that PHA infused products significantly improved photoaging in various populations. Another NCBI study highlighted the protection ability of gluconolactone against UV radiation.

Furthermore, unlike AHAs and BHAs, there is no increased or additional risk of sun damage with PHAs. The application of AHAs and BHAs made our skin more prone to sunburn, but PHAs are considerate not to increase the number of sunburned cells.

This doesn’t mean you are scot-free from applying SPF. The only meaning expressed is that you are not more sensitive to sun exposure even after using a chemical exfoliant. 

3. PHA, Irritating? - NO!

The sting you suffer every time you apply a chemical exfoliant, bid farewell to it. The deeper the acid penetrates, the harsher the irritation, and we have established PHAs work on the surface and outer layers of skin. Do not let glycolic acid sizzle the dead skin by somersaulting deep into your skin. PHAs won’t sting, burn, or redden your skin comparatively, and it doesn’t irritate the skin like the rest of the members in its leagues. 

4. Antioxidants in abundance.  

PHAs are not only less irritating but also come with a bundle of antioxidant properties. Lactobionic and gluconolactone acids, like regular antioxidants, protect from UV-induced free radical damage.

This protection helps PHAs prevent premature aging, hyperpigmentation, and keeps your healthy collagen safe.  

5. Fight adult acne.

Incorporate a PHA in your skincare routine, if possible. NCBI suggests that products incorporated with PHA and retinoic acid were found to be ideal for the treatment of adult facial acne.  

6. Chelate extra iron 

Your skin has iron, which is deposited by blood. Healthy looking skin requires an adequate supply of iron-rich blood, the pinkish hue healthy skin.

It also prevents a sallow look, iron in the cutaneous layer of skin in abundance, or otherwise stimulates the skin to age speedily, called oxidative stress. The rendering of extra iron biologically inactive is to ‘chelate.’ PHAs chelate the iron, thereby eliminating yet another aging enemy that would otherwise make you appear older.  

7. Wrinkly Skin?

Although aging is inevitable, PHAs help reduce the appearance of signs of aging. PHAs lets you off the hook and eases the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles to a certain extent.  

Incorporating PHAs in your beauty regime

How do you add this exclusive chemical in your skincare routine?  

PHAs, like AHAs, are infused in various products such as toners, face serums, moisturizers, even cleansers, liquid exfoliant, and numerous other products. It may be the main ingredient in your product or just a sidekick that brings the best out of the main ingredient.

Masks, serums, or moisturizers, incorporate PHAs into any step of your skincare regime. It is safe and secure to use, but you should start slowly and then catch-up by building up the frequency thereon. How much ever memorable, it won’t help you achieve your goal overnight. Be patient and stick to the chemical for results that you desire.

The best incorporation of PHAs comes in products that are to be left on the skin for a longer period. The extended time gives PHAs enough time to loosen the bonds between outermost epidermal skin cells. Your AHAs also, at times, come with PHAs to finish the work AHAs missed out. The PHAs are incorporated along with AHAs in solutions so that PHAs help clean the surface-level dirt, debris and provide conditioning effects to the skin without increasing sensitivity to the UV rays.

Non-exfoliating products incorporate this chemical exfoliant to wash away dead skin cells, and the efficacy of the products (mostly a serum) enhances. 

Hydroquinone and PHAs can be combined to improve skin pigmentation and aging.

Peel PHAs

The need for exfoliation for every kind of skin is persistent. And exfoliation is what gifts you a smoother and softer skin. But sensitive skin types faced a lot of rejection based on products they can and cannot use especially exfoliation.

It comes in PHA and proves itself to be the perfect chemical exfoliant for people with sensitive skin issues like dryness or rosacea.

The weekly application will rid your skin of dead skin cells and flaky skin.  

Post-cosmetic procedures and PHA

The versatility of PHAs makes it viable to combine with a bunch of other treatments. Ingredients or dermatological procedures use PHAs as an additional ingredient for the benefits it brings to the therapy.

The gentleness of PHAs, along with the fact that it doesn’t maximize one’s photo-sensitivity, ensures that it can be used even after at-home treatments. It will take care of the flakiness you inherited due to the treatment and hydrate the skin to boost the healing process.

Cosmetic procedures like laser and microdermabrasion can be followed by PHAs, but consult the dermatologist first. 

Water your skin with PHAs

The managing of pH level to solely hydrate the skin emits the exfoliation process. Hence, PHAs are at times used alone in products for hydration.

Or you can buy hydrating products incorporated with PHAs to reap additional hydration benefits.

If your skin is insensitive, you may use glycolic and salicylic acid-infused products made with PHAs to prevent dryness.

Whatever and whichever type of formula you decide to incorporate in your daily regime, take proper care in layering the products to reap excellent benefits. 

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PHAs and skin variants

Determining your skin type and your concerns is a first step towards perfecting a skincare routine for you. AHAs penetrate the skin deeply and are generally suitable for normal to dry skin types to exfoliate and naturally moisturize, while BHAs are suited for oily, acne-prone skin.  

But which chemical suits you the best? Is PHA for you?

Sensitive skin types are the ones who turn out to benefit the best from PHAs. Like the sizeable molecular size and surface-level penetration, their extraordinary properties make them an apt choice for all skin types.

Dry skin types are likely to gush over PHAs due to its humectant identity. They attract water and moisturize in an exemplary manner.

The most gentle PHA of all hydroxy acids, PHAs help smooth and retexturize skin without irritation and can benefit eczema or atopic dermatitis prone skin types.  

Minimalist’s Advice:

PHAs are a reparative ingredient and are known not to cause any adverse or side effects to the skin. PHAs come with smashing benefits like gentle exfoliation, collagen manufacture, antioxidant protection, hydration, even texture, and treating pigmentation.

Use it mostly with acids in low concentrations, retinoids with PHAs should be avoided/ignored if you have particularly sensitive skin.  

Last But Not The Least!

Although PHAs do not increase the sensitivity to sun and photodamage, it doesn’t mean you can let go of SPF.

DO NOT miss to apply SPF no matter which chemical you opt for.

Be patient with the process and let the acid work its magic.  

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