Skin Health

A Beginner’s Guide to Face Acids

Let’s get into face acids!! I’m talking about Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) and Polyhydroxy Acids (PHA). Yes, I know, what is she talking about? This is exactly how I felt when anyone mentioned using face acids.  We’ll demystify all aspects of face acids below. Keep reading. We’ll discuss what exactly are face acids, why it’s beneficial to use them and how to incorporate then into your skincare routine.

What are Chemical Exfoliants

AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs are chemical exfoliants loosen the bonds of dead skin cells sticking to the surface of the skin, causing them to slough off.. Chemical exfoliants are manufactured in numerous ways; serums, toners, cleansers, face masks, and moisturizers. Not sure where face acids fit into your skincare routine, click here for a bit more context.

Regular use of chemical exfoliants reveals smoother, firmer, more hydrated, and glowing skin. Chemical exfoliation is one of the best ways to effectively exfoliate your skin at home.

Chemical exfoliants loosen the bonds of dead skin cells adhering to the surface of the skin causing them to slough off.

Types of Face Acids – Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)

AHAs are the most common forms of chemical exfoliants.  AHAs:

  1. Speed up the rate of cell turnover by getting rid of dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin
  2. Improves the absorption of other skincare products enabling them to go deeper into the skin, thus improving the efficacy of the product 
  3. Improves the tone and texture of your skin

I have focussed on four of the more well-known AHA’s currently on the market.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of AHAs.  I encourage you to do your research before incorporating face acids into your skincare routine.

AHA’s are the most common forms of chemical exfoliants.

Glycolic Acid derived from sugarcane

  • Great for all skin types especially those with dry skin
  • Restores moisture and plumpness
  • Smoothes and tones skin texture resulting in a nice glow
  • Helps fade pigmentation from past acne scars, melasma, etc.
  • Improves the look of fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen production, thus improving signs of aging
  • The most researched of all face acids

Lactic Acid derived from plant, fruit, and milk sugars

  • The most gentle of all the AHA’s due to its molecule’s larger size, it does not penetrate as deeply into the skin
  • Perfect for sensitive skin types
  • Great for treating hyperpigmentation and age spots
  • Improves skin’s texture

Azelaic Acid derived from wheat, barley, and rye

  • Has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties which makes it great for treating and preventing acne
  • Azelex and Finacea are two brand names for prescription topical preparations of azelaic acid
  • Said to be gentler than other face acids used to treat acne
  • Associated with more side effects like; skin burning and tingling, redness, and dryness, and skin peeling at the application site
  • I find this face acid too strong for sensitive skin, but is great in the Ren Skincare Daily AHA Toner which I will touch on later in this piece.
  • Requires long-term consistent use
  • Should consult your dermatologist before using

Malic Acid derived from apple juice

  • This acid is a humectant meaning it hugs moisture close to the skin improving the skin’s hydration
  • Naturally occurs in our bodies during metabolic processes
  • Cleanses and rejuvenates the skin
  • Used to balance the pH levels in cosmetics

Other AHA’s you can look into are; citric acid, mandalic acid, kojic acid and tartaric acid. They all have the same mission but as seen above could focus on different aspects of skin rejuvenation and one may be more suited to your skin than the other. 

Types of Face Acids – Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHAs)

There really is only one beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid. The natural form of salicylic acid is derived from willow bark. Salicylic acid is the only face acid that is oil soluble.  This is good news for those with oily skin, this one’s for you.  Salicylic acid gets deep into the pores clearing out excess oil and dirt, making BHA a holy grail for oily and acne-prone skin.  I have included this very informative diagram below that breaks down AHAs and BHAs beautifully.

The natural form of salicylic acid is derived from willow bark.

Info graphic explaining face acids, AHA and BHA

Referenced from Pinterest; Let’s Face It Aus, K Beauty Tips: How To Use AHA/ BHA In Your Skincare Routine 

Types of Face Acids – Polyhydroxy Acid (PHA)

I recently learned about PHAs doing research for this blog piece.  PHAs were created in the early 1900’s but were immediately put under patent. PHA’s are synthetic face acids that are related to AHA’s but are gentler on the skin.  They are gentler because the molecules are larger, which means they do not penetrate as deep into the skin.  If you’re interested, these acids are gluconolactone, lactobionic and galactose. They have the same exfoliating and brightening profile as AHA’s, without the photosensitivity and decreased possibility for irritation.

PHAs are synthetic face acids that are related to AHA’s but are gentler on the skin. 

PHA’s would be a great place to start for individuals with sensitive skin and may have had trouble in the past with AHA’s.  I do feel that if you take your time with AHA’s at very low concentrations, you will be able to incorporate face acids into your routine over time.  

Click here for a general overview of face acids.

Product Suggestion + Review

The addition of AHAs, BHAs and PHAs is guaranteed to kick your everyday skincare products up a notch. I started my trial and error process with face acids, mainly AHAs, earlier this year.  I will be describing a few products below that are a great start to incorporating AHAs into your skincare routine. 

Plain picture of Consonant Skincare Maximum Glycolic Meta serum

Consonant Glycolic Meta Serum. You’ve heard me gush about Consonant products before, well this is no different. In my opinion, they’ve revolutionized glycolic acid to be gentle, not at all drying and it is very suitable for the skin. Consonant has managed to combine four different  AHAs (glycolic, lactic, citric and malic) plus salicylic acid to create this serum.  I use Consonants Glycolic Meta serum two to three times per week when I’ve taken a break from my prescribed face treatments.  Depending on your skin type, you can use this serum a few times a week or every other week.  This serum retails for $63 at or at Consonant stores for the same price.

REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic.  Ren Skincare has combined lactic acid, salicilin (BHA)  and azelaic acid in a face toner gentle enough to be used daily on your skin. I use this toner most mornings after cleansing with Micellar water and at night, when I’m not applying vitamin C or medication to my face.  It really is gentle enough for daily use even on my super sensitive skin. 

Ren Skincare Ready Set Glow Daily AHA toner

I received a sample size of this Ren Skincare toner from Sephora and let’s just say I ordered the 250ml bottle that retails for $50 earlier this month. It’s that effective and gentle. I have seen marked improvements in my skin’s tone, texture, and overall glow. 

Fun tip, I also use the toner on my upper back for those pesky pimples that can pop up there.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA.  This is an affordable and gentle lactic acid serum that I have in my arsenal. I started using The Ordinary lactic acid serum to see how my skin would tolerate AHAs. This is a good stepping stone for those hesitant about starting with AHA’s. The 30 ml bottle retails at Sephora for $6.80 or you can purchase the 60 ml bottle for $12.20

Picture of Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA resurfacing night serum

Farmacy Honeymoon Glow AHA resurfacing night serum with hydrating honey + gentle flower acids.  This beauty has quite the name and works miracles.  The Farmacy Honeymoon Glow hydrates, resurfaces and clarifies dull skin.  It is made with a 14% AHA/BHA/gentle flower acids blend, that lives up to its name.  I have tried this product twice and it works for my skin.  You don’t need to use a lot of the serum and depending on your skin type, you might only be using this a few times per month. You wake up to beautiful, soft, refreshed skin that absolutely glows. It retails at Sephora for $77.

How to Use Face Acids 

  1. Integrate acids into your routine slowly!!  I cannot stress this enough.  Finding the right acid for your skin takes time.  Be patient and be gentle with your skin. Adding acids to your skincare routine is for the long-term benefit of your skin.  Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Pay attention to your skin’s monthly cycle.  Yes, hormones affect everything and your skin is no exception.  Is your skin more sensitive and prone to breakouts at certain times of the month?  Probably not the best time to try out face acids.
  3. Aim to use face acids twice per week depending on your skin’s tolerance to the product, the concentration of the face acid, and the medium that the face acid is in, eg. the Ren Skincare Daily toner mentioned above vs the 14% Farmacy Honeymoon Glow serum. Also it allow you to use other actives in your skincare routine on face acids off night.
  4. Pay close attention to how your skin is responding to the face acid.  Are you seeing results, is that tingle you feel irritated (you’ll know the difference), do you need a higher concentration of the face acid for your skin type?
  5. Plan a day or two in the week to rest your skin from all interventions. 
  6. If you have sensitive skin, start with one of the gentler face acids like the lactic acid serum at low concentrations or a gentle AHA toner every other day.  
  7. Always use face acids with the lowest concentration available to assess your skin’s tolerance to it.
  8. SUNSCREEN. SUNSCREEN. SUNSCREEN.  You’re revealing new fresh skin that has absolutely no tolerance to the sun rays.  Do not ruin your skin’s progress by allowing sun damage or sunburn.  Click here for all the information you need on using sunscreen in your skincare routine.
  9. Some face acids are safe to use in pregnancy, like azelaic acid, while others are not.  Do your research and check with your doctor about which one you can use.
  10. Speak with your dermatologist.  I find I get a general idea about what I need to do for my skin from my dermatologist but most of my knowledge is from my research and figuring out what works for my skin.  If you have a fabulous and knowledgeable dermatologist, please share the info.

In Closing

I hope I was able to shed some light on face acids and how you can start using them in your skincare routine.  They are a fantastic option to achieve and maintain soft, glowing skin at home.

Thank you for stopping by. If you’ve gotten this far don’t forget to subscribe to the blog and share this valuable info with a friend.

Your Skin + Beauty Nurse,


Just a nurse obsessed with skincare! By day, I'm a Public Health Nurse by night I'm a skincare obsessed mom of 3 littles, a wife and lover of all things coconut!

7 Comments on “A Beginner’s Guide to Face Acids

  1. Thanks again, SeraJade for your informative skincare routine in order to keep our skin healthy. Blessings ❤️

  2. Thank you for educating me on the different types of face acid. I only knew of BHA’s but after reading about Farmacy Honeymoon Glow, I am willing to expand my skincare routine for sone added benefits!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *