What are AHAs, Key AHA Benefits, & Where to Find AHAs

5 min
by Kayla Kernel
September 17, 2021

You’ve surely seen acids like glycolic, lactic, or citric listed on the labels of popular skincare must-haves. They all belong to a family of skin-sloughing ingredients known as AHAs. And they’re something that pretty much every dermatologist will agree is part of a comprehensive skincare routine. What are you waiting for? Need more information to help convince you of their skincare superpowers? So glad you asked:


What are AHAs

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are a chemical exfoliant that work by dissolving the “glue” (technically, corneodesmosomes, which are protein fibers) that holds dead skin cells to the surface of fresh skin. This not only reveals the plump, young skin underneath, it also allows light to reflect more evenly off the surface of skin, making it appear more radiant. BHAs, another type of exfoliating hydroxy acid, are often used in combination with AHAs.


AHA Benefits: Why AHAs Are Great

Consistent use of an AHA does more than uncover fresh, glowing skin. AHAs also help ramp up collagen production, which leads to fewer lines and firmer skin down the road. And they can even out skin tone, reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation. And by whisking away dead skin cells, AHAs reduce the chance those cells will clog pores, triggering a breakout. And some also have antioxidant or hydrating properties. So there’s not a lot they can’t do, tbh.

A GIF of AHA acid breaking bond holding onto dead skin cells

Why AHAs Are Sometimes Misunderstood

Some AHAs can be more irritating than others, so you may have to work to find the one best-suited to your skin type. But just because one particular AHA isn’t a love-match for you, that doesn’t mean all AHAs have to be avoided. (You may not like lima beans, but that doesn’t translate to nixing vegetables completely, right?) There are a plethora of AHAs to choose from, and some are super gentle, while others can be more intense. Once you learn about the qualities that make each AHA unique, you can select the one that’s best suited to your individual needs.

To be fair, all AHAs can make skin more sun-sensitive, so daily application of a physical sunblock with at least an SPF of 30 is non-negotiable. (But you should already be applying SPF every day, so this shouldn’t be an issue.) 


Where To Find AHAs

AHAs can make a cameo in just about every type of skincare product on the market: facial cleansers, toners, masks, peels, serums, moisturizers, and more. You’ll also be able to locate body products, such as washes and lotions, that contain AHAs. We’ve even seen them in haircare products. (The scalp is just another area of skin, right? So the exfoliating power of AHAs works wonders on product build-up, flakes, and dander.) 


Who Should Use AHAs

Anyone who wants fresher, brighter, glowier skin. AHA is also generally considered safe for new mothers, which can’t be said of all skincare ingredients (ahem, retinol). Still, as with any skincare ingredient, you’ll want to check with your doctor first before you start using it, if you’re pregnant or nursing.


Who Should Avoid AHAs

Infants and children (duh). And anyone with hypersensitive, reacts to anything and everything skin. You should also skip AHAs if you have a sunburn or any broken or open areas of skin (like a cut). If you’ve never tried AHAs before and are worried about how your skin will react, you can always patch test on a small, off the face area (such as the inner arm) first, before applying your chosen AHA product to your face.

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Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel

Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel