Everything You Need to Know About Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

Another skincare ingredient that’s been put in the spotlight in the recent years is Alpha Hydroxy Acids or commonly known as the three-letter AHAs.

What exactly are AHAs?

chemical component illustration

These are not just some random letters. These letters are actually very powerful in the skincare industry.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids are acids derived from plants or animals that are used in a wide range of skincare or beauty products, including toners, serums and creams. Occasionally, it exists as a concentrated treatment like in chemical peels.

What are the types of AHAs?

The AHA group of acids are listed down below:

  • Tartaric acid (from grapes)
  • Citric acid (from citrus fruits)
  • Malic acid (from fruits)
  • Glycolic acid (from sugar)
  • Lactic acid (from lactose or other carbohydrates)
  • Hydroxycaproic acid (from royal jelly)
  • Hydroxycaprylic acid (from animals)

Glycolic and Lactic acids are the most well-researched and commonly used in skincare products, as they are less likely to cause adverse effects such as skin irritation.

Why do I have to use AHA in my routine?

The main reason people use AHA is because of the gentle exfoliation it offers, as compared to when you use physical exfoliators. For that reason, most toners or products containing AHAs can be used daily.

What are the other benefits of using AHA?

  • Promotes collagen formation and blood flow
  • Corrects skin discoloration from scars and age sports
  • Improves the appearance of skin lines and wrinkles
  • Prevention of whitehead and blackhead formation
  • Helps to minimize future breakouts
  • Helps in clarifying skin complexion
  • Aids in increasing product absorption
essences and bottles and flowers

*for the next part: there are some personal experiences. I am sharing my experience based on my usage of the COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner.


AHA helps in exfoliating the skin: as I said, this is the main ‘premise’ of how AHAs work, it is also the ‘base’ or the ‘underlying’ principle for the other benefits of using AHA. Generally, the more AHAs are in a product, the more powerful its exfoliating power is.

 If you want to learn more about the process of exfoliation. Check out my other blog post here.

Personally, I love AHAs/ BHAs because it offers a gentler way of exfoliating my skin as compared to when I use physical exfoliators once a week or those black peel-off masks once a month. With AHA, you can exfoliate daily, without damaging your skin or without any adverse side effects.

It is good to point out here that using AHAs can dehydrate and irritate the skin, or even make it more sensitive to the sun- thus, it is imperative that you use hydrating serums, moisturizers and sunscreen during the day to reduce the irritation it may cause.

2. It helps brighten up your skin.

When AHAs exfoliate your skin, the dead skin cells are broken down and are easily sloughed off, revealing the healthy and radiant new cells underneath it. Glycolic acid can help break down dead skin cell accumulation, whilst citric acid is used to brighten your skin even further.

I’ve decided to use an AHA/ BHA toner because of this ‘benefit’ as I’ve been suffering from acne breakouts and marks lately. I wasn’t disappointed. In a matter of two weeks, some of the acne marks that I’ve been trying so hard to ‘spot correct’ for a month, brightened up. I am currently using the COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner.

exfoliating products

3. It boosts collagen production

Collagen is made up of protein-rich fibers that aim to keep the skin’s plumpness and smoothness. As we age, these fibers break down, sometimes to the point that the body is unable to produce it in adequate amounts. At the same time, sun damage may accelerate the destruction of collagen which will result in sallow and sagging skin.

Collagen is in the dermis (the middle layer of the skin). When the cells on the epidermis (outer layer) are removed, products can work their wonders on the deeper layers. This way, AHAs can help break down old collagen fibers in order to make for new ones.

One thing I noticed from using COSRX’s AHA/ BHA clarifying toner is that, my skin appears more plump and clear for just two weeks of use.Helps in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

4. Helps in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

AHAs are known for their anti-aging effects. A study reported that 9/10 subjects who used AHA over a 3-week period experienced significant improvements in the overall texture of their skin. However, AHAs only work for the surface wrinkles or lines, and not for deep wrinkles.

5. It improves blood flow to the skin

AHAs have inflammatory properties that helps promote blood flow to the skin to give it more life and radiance. This helps in correcting the ‘dead’, dull and unhealthy look of your skin. When there is sufficient blood flow to the skin, it’s ensured that your skin gets all the necessary nutrients for it to function properly and for it to repair itself.

  • Helps in the treatment and prevention of acne.

6. Helps in the prevention of acne breakouts and scars

Acne pimples pop up when the pores are clogged by a combination of dead skin cells, oil and even bacteria. Exfoliating AHAs can help in loosening and removing all of it to clarify your skin. Continued use may aid in preventing ‘pore clogs’ from happening in the future.

Personally, after I’ve included AHA in my routine, my acne breakouts lessened, so I have lesser acne marks to deal with. It also made me feel more confident because I feel like I am doing something better for my skin.

How much AHA is enough?

Generally, the FDA recommends using products with an AHA concentration of 10% or less to prevent adverse side effects and skin irritation. Daily products usually have AHAs at 5%, while the stronger chemical peels might have 10-15%. However, acid peels are used less frequently to reduce the risk for side effects.

What ingredients can’t you use with AHA?

Since AHA is already an active ingredient, it can’t be mixed together with Retinol and Vitamin C. Plus! make sure you put on moisturizer, hydrating serums and sunscreen after using AHA.

As for the frequency, it depends on the specifications as stated on the product packaging. I normally use it during the evenings only as I tend to use my Vit C serum in the morning.

What product I am using

I use COSRX AHA/BHA clarifying toner because it is the most easily accessible for me! You can find it on different e-commerce websites. However make sure that what you are buying is authentic. Click the links embedded in the article to make sure that what you will be buying is legit!

Hope you learned a lot!

Until you read from me again.

If you want you can engage with me on instagram! Find me here! @juliandeabanico

Author: juliandee