When in comes to skincare ingredients, there are a few things we know.
1. Medical-grade formulations are ALWAYS the best.
2. Some ingredients are totally not worth their extortionate price tags – yes, we’re talking to you, gold-infused ‘miracle’ cream.
And 3. There are certain tried and trusted ingredients that, like Madonna and Twin Peaks will NEVER go out of fashion. Why? Because they’re good.
Some of our favorite ingredients include hyaluronic acid, retinoids and vitamin C, all of which come highly recommended by derms, doctors and plastic surgeons nationwide and all of which we bang on about on a weekly basis (and will never apologize for it). In terms of anti-aging superpowers, however, there are two further groups of ingredients that have been around for over 25 years and will give you a lot of skin-loving bang for your hard-earned buck.
Say hello to the mighty alpha and beta hydroxy acids…
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
AHAs are naturally-occurring, water-soluble substances that have been extracted from fruit or milk sugars to help exfoliate the top layer of your skin. They encourage new skin to grow, while simultaneously stimulating elastin and collagen production. This means they’re particularly useful for treating surface sun-damage and age spots, as well as fine lines and wrinkles.
The most common AHAs found in skincare are lactic acid (extracted from milk) and the hugely popular glycolic acid (found in sugar cane). Most AHA creams – from the finest medical-grade formulations to over-the-counter drugstore brands – contain glycolic acid in some guise or another. It’s also found in a huge number of superficial chemical peels due to its unrivalled exfoliation skills.
Side-effects of AHAs can sometimes include sensitivities, itching, burning and in very rare cases, scarring, but most people report no problems. Using AHAs does, however, make your skin much more vulnerable to the damaging effects of the sun, so you should always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF30 or above.
Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)
Unlike their water-soluble AHA cousins, BHAs are oil-soluble substances, meaning they can penetrate into your pores to exfoliate your skin on a much deeper level. BHAs are used in skincare to cut through any excess oil that may be clogging your pores, as well as for getting rid of dead skin cells, correcting dark spots and improving the skin’s overall texture.
The biggest player in the BHA world is undoubtedly salicylic acid which occurs naturally in willow bark and sweet birch. Derived from aspirin, salicylic acid has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it perfect for treating acne-prone skin. That’ll be why you’ll be hard pushed to find any medical-grade acne treatment that doesn’t contain it. Try it, you will almost certainly fail. Oh, and see above regarding sunscreen, because as with AHAs, it’s imperative to protect BHA-treated skin every day of the year. Have we made that clear enough? Good;)