Alpha Hydroxy Acid Benefits for Skin + How to Use Them in Your Routine

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If brighter, clearer, and smoother skin is your aim, then alpha hydroxy acids (also known as AHAs) are an ingredient that you need to know about. Stick with us as we explain what they are, how they can help your skin, and how to safely add AHAs into your skincare routine.

AHA Skincare: What is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid?

Biting a green apple

Alpha hydroxy acids benefits for skin: AHAs are natural acids that are found in certain foods, although many of the AHAs used in skincare products today have been synthetically created.

There are several different types of AHAs out there, with the main difference between them being their molecular size.

The smallest of the lot, and therefore the most powerful because of how it can penetrate further into the skin than the others, is glycolic acid (derived from sugar cane).

Next up is lactic acid (which comes from fermented foods). It is also relatively small on a molecular level, yet is known for being gentler than glycolic acid.

On the other end of the scale with a larger molecular size sits malic acid (which comes from apples) and citric acid (which comes from citrus fruits). These AHAs are often combined with others in order to make them more effective.

What Does AHA Do for Skin? A List of the Benefits That Using AHA Products Can Bring

Although each type of AHA varies when it comes to power, they all have similar overall effects on the skin:

An AHA Gel Will Exfoliate Dead Skin Cells

The main purpose of an AHA is to exfoliate the skin [1]. Unlike a physical exfoliant, which abrasively dislodges dead skin cells in quite a harsh manner, AHAs work by dissolving the glue-like substance that keeps dead cells attached to the surface of the skin, allowing them to gently fall off.

Additionally, AHAs are also great for speeding up natural cell turnover. This is the rate at which your skin naturally exfoliates itself, and is something that declines with age. Ramping this back up can help to bring back a fresher and more youthful complexion.

A Glycolic Acid Treatment Can Help With Acne

Studies have found AHAs to be extremely effective at treating acne [2]. How? Because of how they clear the pores out of debris and other impurities. As a result, pore blockages don’t happen quite as often, meaning that pimples don’t have the opportunity to erupt.

Teenage girl apllying cream to treat acne

An AHA Serum Will Lighten & Brighten the Skin

Whether you’re dealing with acne marks, melasma, or any other form of discoloration, alpha hydroxy acids are a great way to fade hyperpigmentation. Glycolic acid is usually the go-to when it comes to treating dark spots [3], while lactic acid has been proven to be extremely effective at targeting melasma [4].

Either way, combine AHAs with a powerful skin lightening cream and your dark patches should be gone in no time.

A Cream, Lotion, or Moisturizer with AHAs Will Reduce Fine Lines & Wrinkles

As mentioned, cell turnover slows down with age. This can lead to old skin cells building up on the skin’s surface, causing a rough and dull texture that enhances the signs of aging. By clearing that build-up away, AHAs improve skin texture, giving you a smoother and firmer finish. Research backs this up, with studies finding that just three weeks of regular AHA usage can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles [5].

How to Add AHAs to Your Skincare Routine Without Having to Deal With Side Effects or Dry Skin

alpha hydroxy acid benefits for skin

Since AHAs vary greatly in strength, you could experience side effects if you add a powerful acid into your skincare routine without giving your skin time to adjust to it. These side effects include redness, dryness, itching, and a burning sensation.

The key to avoiding these is to start off with a low concentration – a 5% AHA product applied 2-3 times a week is usually a good place to begin. Once you’ve used this for a while without any issues, you can amp things up to a maximum of 10%.

In addition to using the right concentration, it’s also important that you pick the right acid for your skin. Those with oily or normal skin types should try glycolic, whereas those with dry or sensitive skin types would be better with lactic acid, or one of the even gentler forms, such as malic or mandelic acid.

It’s worth noting that AHAs can leave your skin much more sensitive to sun damage, so make sure that you’re extra diligent about sunscreen use once you’ve added an AHA to your skincare routine.


Pretty woman examining her face for acne

Q: What does alpha hydroxy acid do for skin?

Alpha hydroxy acids benefits for skin: they exfoliate, lighten, and smooth the skin.

Q: Do alpha hydroxy acids come from fruit?

All alpha hydroxy acids come from foods, and there are a few that come from fruit, such as citric acid (from citrus fruits) and malic acid (from apples).

Q: Does alpha hydroxy acid lighten skin?

Yes, alpha hydroxy acids are great for lightening skin.

Q: Is alpha hydroxy good for face?

Yes, alpha hydroxy acids are good for the face, so long as you don’t choose a strength that’s too powerful for your skin to handle.

Q: Which alpha hydroxy acid is most effective for facial peels?

Glycolic acid is the AHA that’s most commonly used for facial peels.

Q: Is alpha hydroxy acid the same as hyaluronic acid?

No, the two are completely different. Hyaluronic acid isn’t a “true” acid – it hydrates the skin rather than stripping it of dead skin cells like alpha hydroxy acids too.

Summary: Do the Alpha Hydroxy Acid Benefits for Skin Make This an Ingredient Worth Using?

In our opinion, just about everyone should be using an AHA. Whether you’re trying to fade dark spots, smooth away wrinkles, treat acne, or simply maintain a bright and clear complexion, there’s an AHA out there that’ll be perfect for you. Spend some time exploring your options and trying out different AHA combinations and concentrations. Once you’ve found one that works well for your skin, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it!



Avatar for Megan Foley

Megan has been a freelance writer and editor since 2016. In that time, she’s penned a diverse collection of articles for online publication, with a focus on skincare and beauty. From in-depth product reviews to concise marketing content, Megan is passionate about developing content that informs, entertains, and inspires.