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Everything You Need to Know About PHAs

We’ve become a nation obsessed with exfoliating our skin, but there’s more than one way to remove the dead cells that make your complexion look dull and feel dry. Now that you’ve got your head around AHAs and BHAs, it’s time to meet another member of the acid family: PHAs.

What are they?

PHAs or Poly-Hydroxy Acids, to give them their full name, are a group of multi-functional acids that dissolves the substance – often referred to as a glue – that holds dead and damaged cells onto the surface of the skin, revealing a smoother, fresher set of cells hiding underneath. Due to the large size of their molecules, they can’t penetrate too deeply into the skin, doing the majority of their exfoliation on the very top layers of the skin. They also possess mild humectant properties – meaning they can hold onto moisture – which makes them an excellent choice for dry and mature skin types, and have anti-inflammatory benefits that can prove essential when it comes to resurfacing easily irritated complexions. Not only that, PHAs have been shown to support and strengthen skin barrier function, which is why they are often included in eczema treatments and skin-smoothing creams.

How are they different to AHAs and BHAs?

AHAs or Alpha-Hydroxy Acids penetrate the skin incredibly quickly and can go deeper into the skin than a PHA. This means they cause a tingling or stinging sensation when applied to the skin. As PHAs are smaller in molecular structure, they don’t cause this discomfort. Unlike AHAs, Poly-Hydroxy Acids can be used alongside Retinol without causing irritation or inflammation and they can be used multiple times during the week without the need for a break in-between application days. BHAs, on the other hand, work a little differently and are oil-soluble, so they can penetrate the pores and loosen blockages beneath the surface. Despite their differences, all of these acids can make the skin sun sensitive, so it’s important to use a sunscreen in any routine where an AHA, BHA or PHA is utilised.

Where you can find them…

If you are interested in using PHAs in your routine, the key Poly-Hydroxy Acids to look out for are Gluconolactone, Lactobionic Acid and Maltobionic Acid. Gluconolactone is naturally found in the skin and is easily tolerated by all skin types, even rosacea-prone complexions, while Lactobionic and Maltobionic Acids are derived from natural sugars and can help with everything from uneven tone to collagen preservation. Eager to get started? The NeoStrata Bionic Lotion contains a good concentration of PHAs and helps speed up cell turnover or you could opt for the Exuviance SkinRise Bionic Tonic exfoliating face pads for quick and gentle exfoliation post-cleanse. PHAs will always work well when paired with AHAs, so don’t be surprised if you find a mixture of the two in a cream or serum. This will ensure skin is exfoliated on multiple levels, ensuring the best results long-term.

Image from iStockphoto

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