Why adding AHAs to your skin care routine will make a big difference

It's the easiest thing you can do for glowing skin

June 25 2021

Heard of AHAs in skin care but have no idea what they are? You've come to the right place.

First things first, AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid; add that one to the beauty knowledge bank. So when we're talking about AHAs (plural) we're referring to all the types of acids that fall under the alpha umbrella (more on that later).

The world of acids can be a confusing and daunting one, but trust us, if you use AHAs correctly in your skin care routine, they'll become your BFF.

To help steer us in the right direction when it comes to this family of acids, BEAUTYcrew spoke to Ole Henriksen, skin cosmetician and founder of OleHenriksen. Here, the man behind the  ‘Ole Glow’ explains why AHAs are the key to glowing skin, how to incorporate them into a regular skin care routine and what you need to be aware of when using AHAs. 

What are AHAs?

We've already covered the fact that they're an acid, but to give you further detail, AHAs are water-soluble acids that derive most commonly from sugarcane and sugary fruits. This is how they differ from BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), which are oil-soluble and made from willow bark and sweet birch trees. 

What are the benefits of AHAs?

“AHAs will work below the skin’s surface and are clinically proven to strengthen and rebuild the collagen, and clinically proven to actually melt away excess sebum and excess oil... It will also gradually dissolve [milia and blackheads] and take inflammation down,” says Henriksen. 

The most common AHAs

When it comes to ingredients that are classified as AHAs, the most common ones to be aware of are glycolic acid, lactic acid and malic acid, and then there are fruit acids, like the citrus from lemon and orange, as well as enzymes from papaya extract.

How to use AHAs

For the most part, you can find AHAs in a gel, toner or serum that you’d use between cleansing and moisturising. OleHenriksen Invigorating Night Transformation Gel, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Serum and Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Glycolic Serum are good examples of AHA treatments (in fact the La Roche serum utilises multiple acids), but you can actually find AHAs in moisturisers, masks (more commonly called peels), and even eye creams.

OleHenriksen Invigorating Night Transformation Gel

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Serum

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Glycolic Serum

For a nourishing AHA hit morning and night, try Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion, or if you’re more of a moisturiser person, the LANATÉ Cream exfoliates while it hydrates to smooth and soothe dry rough skin. It can also be used on the body to treat keratosis pilaris (chicken skin). And lastly, for a concentrated dose of AHAs, try the OleHenkriksen Instant Transformation Lemon Facial Peel once a week.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion


OleHenkriksen Instant Transformation Lemon Facial Peel

While it’s all well and good to understand that AHAs can be the key to unlocking your inner glow, it must be noted: AHAs alone aren’t what’s going to give you a glowing complexion. “AHAs create a beautiful smooth palette that then will allow for all the other actives to work more effectively, so they pave the way for everything else to work even better. So if it’s just the AHAs, let’s say, on their own, then you won’t have that glow and suppleness. It’s the strip tease for the skin and so the beauty is what follows. It’s a two-step process,” says Henriksen. 

So what kind of actives should you be looking to use in conjunction with your AHAs? 

Henriksen reels off a few: “Essential fatty acids, whether it is your sesame, avocado, soya, grape seed…the list goes on. They cushion, they calm, they comfort, they help with elasticity, they are anti-inflammatory. Then, chamomile [and] aloe vera are naturally healing. Rosehip seed extracts are amazing for reparative healing. Algae extracts from the red to the brown – they calm [and] soothe. Lavender [is] anti-inflammatory and reparative. Eucalyptus on the other side of the spectrum [is] a purifier and antiseptic. All the different sources of vitamin C…”

To make life a bit easier for you, Henriksen has developed his AHA products (the Transform range) with active ingredients, so you don’t have to think twice about the best ingredients to pair with your daily dose of AHAs. But if you want to mix and match between his four ranges (the three others being Nurture for dry and sensitive skin, Balance for oily skin, and Truth for those seeking radiance and brightness) to suit your skin needs, each product is bursting with actives, so again, you can mindlessly wash, exfoliate and moisturise knowing you’ve ticked all the right boxes. 

Why you should be careful when using AHAs

The benefits of AHAs sound great, right? Which is why it’s so easy to be tempted to go hard on the acids in an effort to exfoliate away the dullness and reveal your glow. But for your best skin ever, it’s wise to be patient and cautious. Over-exfoliating and over-using your AHAs can lead to skin that becomes sensitive, red, and tender. “It’s like exercise: it’s all about balance with everything. The skin is a living-breathing organ and has to last you a lifetime and that’s why it’s important to find that balance,” says Henriksen.

Main image credit: @zendaya

Looking to add more AHAs and BHAs into your skin care routine? Here are a few of the best AHAs and BHAs.