AHAs have been proven to be incredibly effective skincare ingredients, making them staples in many skincare enthusiasts’ routines.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of AHAs, as well as the best AHA products.

What is AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)?

AHA stands for alpha-hydroxy acid. It is a class of chemical exfoliants that includes glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and some forms of citric acid.

AHAs are popular in skincare products, often found in serums, masks, toners, and cleansers.

This type of exfoliant is water-soluble, and works on the surface of the skin.

In comparison, beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are oil-soluble, and penetrate deeper into the pores, therefore making them superior for those with acne-prone skin.

What are the Benefits of AHA?

AHAs work on the surface of the skin, exfoliating any dead skin cells and promoting skin cell turnover.

This exfoliation process leads to a variety of benefits, including the following:

  • Reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Improves uneven texture
  • Removes debris to prevent clogged pores and breakouts and reduce the appearance of large pores
  • Promotes blood flow and collagen production
  • Reduces the appearance of acne scars, age spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • Brightens the complexion

Best AHA Products

If you are interested in working alpha-hydroxy acid into your routine, these are some of the best AHA products available.

1. Best Cleanser: Alpha Skin Care Face Wash

best aha cleanser

Best AHA Cleanser

It is important to note that AHA cleansers are not the most effective. When the cleanser mixes with water, the pH level of the acid is disrupted. Additionally, the product will have minimal contact with the skin. Therefore being washed away before it does much to the skin.

That said, for those with more sensitive skin who are wary of leave-on products, an AHA cleanser may be useful. 

How to Use: For the best results, after splashing the face with warm water and gently massaging the cleanser into the skin, allow the product to sit for a few minutes before rinsing off. This gives the AHA time to exfoliate. The cleanser may also be used while showering to exfoliate other areas of the body.

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2. Best Exfoliant: Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

Best AHA Exfoliant

Best AHA Exfoliant

This gel from Paula’s Choice contains an 8% concentration of glycolic acid, providing effective exfoliation while still hydrating the skin. In addition to the AHA, the formula contains antioxidants and plant oils that smooth, calm, moisturize, and soften the skin. The powerful anti-aging formula reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while brightening dull and uneven skin.

How to Use: After cleansing, pat your skin dry. Dispense a quarter sized amount to the palm of your hand and using your finger, gently apply the product all over your face. Allow to dry. Do not wash off.

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3. Best Serum: Mizon AHA 8% Peeling Serum

Best AHA Serum

Best AHA Serum

Mizon has created an 8% AHA serum that gently exfoliates the skin. The formula contains glycolic acid, as well as moisturizing and soothing ingredients like aloe, allantoin, castor oil, centella asiatica (tiger grass) extract, and papaya fruit extract. This serum is dermatologically tested and hypoallergenic.

How to Use: After cleansing, pat your skin dry. Dispense a quarter sized amount to the palm of your hand and using your finger, gently apply the product all over your face. Allow to dry. Do not wash off.

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4. Best for Anti-Aging and Wrinkles: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos

Best AHA for Anti-Aging and Wrinkles

Best AHA for Anti-Aging and Wrinkles

This cult favorite serum from Drunk Elephant is one of the best AHA products for anti-aging and wrinkles. It contains a 12% concentration of an AHA blend that includes glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acid. These work together to exfoliate dead skin cells and reveal a smooth, bright, and even skin tone. It also contains salicylic acid (a BHA), which unclogs pores. Together, these ingredients reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while improving tone and texture.

How to Use: After cleansing, pat your skin dry. Dispense a quarter sized amount to the palm of your hand and using your finger, gently apply the product all over your face. Allow to dry. Do not wash off.

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5. Best Mask: Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial Mask

Best AHA Mask

This mask is another huge hit from Drunk Elephant. It has a high 25% concentration of an AHA blend, making it one of the best AHA products for anti-aging and wrinkles. Like the Framboos serum, the AHA blend contains glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acid. It also has a 2% concentration of salicylic acid. These exfoliating acids remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, soothe redness, smooth, and brighten the skin. 

How to Use: After cleansing, apply an even layer to dry skin. Leave on for 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water, and pat dry. Follow-up with your favorite moisturizer. Use once weekly. Slight tingling may be experienced.

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6. Best Body Lotion: Alpha Skin Care Renewal Body Lotion

Best AHA Body Lotion

Exfoliation shouldn’t stop at the face. This great AHA body lotion allows you to exfoliate and moisturize the entire body to reveal smooth skin. It contains a 12% concentration of glycolic acid, and is one of the best AHA products for both exfoliating and moisturizing the body. The AHA lifts dead skin cells and promotes the production of collagen, reduces the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and evens out skin tone.

How to Use: After showering, apply an even layer to the area on your body you want to exfoliate. Allow to dry. Do not wash off.

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7. Best for Acne: Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner

Best AHA for Acne

Best AHA for Acne

This AHA toner exfoliates away pore-clogging debris on the face using a potent formula containing both BHA and AHA. The salicylic acid in the product works deep in the pores to remove debris, while the glycolic and lactic acids exfoliate the surface of the skin. In addition to the chemical exfoliants, the formula contains papaya and portulaca extracts, both of which help prevent breakouts.

How to Use: After cleansing, apply a few drops to a cotton pad and swipe across desired area to remove any excess cleanser or impurities. Allow to dry. Do not wash off.

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8. Best for Sensitive Skin: The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

Best AHA for Sensitive Skin

Best AHA for Sensitive Skin

While many products use glycolic and lactic acid, The Ordinary has created an AHA product with mandelic acid. Mandelic acid has a larger molecule size than the more commonly used chemical exfoliants. This means that, while it still exfoliates the skin and improves the overall texture and tone of the skin, it doesn’t penetrate as deep into the skin.

For those with sensitive skin, this means there is less risk of irritation. The more gentle mandelic acid, as well as the addition of hydrating hyaluronic acid, make this serum one of the best AHA products for sensitive skin.

How to Use: After cleansing, apply a few drops to a cotton pad and swipe across desired area to remove any excess cleanser or impurities. Allow to dry. Do not wash off.

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How to Use AHA Products In Your Routine

The directions for use of an AHA product will differ from product to product, and will also depend on your skin type. Below is a general outline of how each type of AHA product should be used.

AHA Serums, Lotions, and Toners

How often you use leave-on AHA products will depend on the strength of the formula, as well as your own skin’s sensitivity and needs.

  • Start by looking at the product’s label for a guideline on how often you should apply the product.
  • Some people may be able to use a leave on AHA product on a daily basis.
  • However, others may find that they get the best results by just using it a few times a week.
  • When first starting out, the best course of action is to start by applying the product every other day or every two days to see how your skin reacts.

After a couple weeks, you may decide to increase the usage.

AHA Masks

For starters, AHA masks have a higher concentration of AHAs, and should be used with caution.

  • AHA masks are more suitable for those who already have experience using chemical exfoliants.
  • The number of times per month you should use the mask will vary from product to product, but you generally should not exceed once a week.
  • After rinsing off the mask, avoid applying another exfoliating product, as it will likely lead to irritation.

Instead, apply soothing and hydrating products, like a moisturizer and a facial oil.

AHA Body Lotions

Apply an AHA body lotion just as you would a typical body lotion.

  • First, shower with a water-soluble body wash to remove excess oil and impurities, pay skin dry.
  • When applying, focus on areas where you need exfoliation for smooth, even skin.
  • Many people will be able to apply AHA body lotions on a daily basis, but the right amount will vary from person to person.

For best results, start with an application every other day, and slowly work your way up as your skin adjusts to the exfoliant.

Tips for People New to AHAs

If you are new to using AHA products, there are a few tips you should keep in mind.

1. Wear Sunscreen Daily

First, it is important to know that AHA increases sun sensitivity. It is essential that you wear a good face sunscreen with at least SPF 30 on a daily basis when using an AHA product.

2. Slowly Build Up Your Tolerence

When starting to use AHAs, it is also vital that you start slow and focus on products with lower concentrations. Don’t start with a mask with a potent concentration of AHAs.

Instead, focus on using a product with a lower concentration a few times a week. After a few weeks, you may increase usage to daily application if it seems necessary.

3. Don't Over-Exfoliate

Once your skin has some experience with AHA products, you may add stronger concentration products into your routine (again, if it seems necessary).

Over-exfoliation and irritation is very common with chemical exfoliants. This means that it is essential that you are patient when introducing AHAs into your routine to keep your skin healthy and happy.

FAQs

Are glycolic acid and AHA the same thing?

Glycolic acid is a type of AHA, and is one of the most commonly used ingredients you’ll find in the best AHA products. Lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and some forms of citric acid are also AHAs.

Is glycolic or lactic acid better?

Glycolic acid and lactic acid are the most common AHAs found in skincare products, and have also been found to be the most effective in studies.

Both are excellent at exfoliating the uppermost layers of skin to reveal rejuvenated skin underneath.

  1. Glycolic acid has the smallest molecule size of the AHAs, which means it is better able to penetrate the skin.
  2. Lactic acid has a slightly larger molecule size, so it works a bit more slowly. That being said, it may be more appropriate for those with more sensitive skin.

Can you use AHA daily?

Some AHA products are suitable for daily use. However, some people may find that they experience irritation when using AHAs on a daily basis, especially those with sensitive skin.

What does AHA do for your skin?

AHAs exfoliate the skin, removing any dead skin cells on the surface and promoting skin cell turnover. Additionally, this helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve skin texture and tone, and brighten the complexion.

The Bottom Line

AHAs are powerful skincare ingredients. Luckily, there are AHA products that work for every skin type.

If you’re considering adding one of the best AHA products to your routine, be patient and start slowly.

Soon enough, you’ll begin to see and feel the benefits that come with AHA products.