Your Guide to PHAs in Skincare

Did you know that alongside BHAs and AHAs, there’s a third group of facial acids that deserve a share of the spotlight? Yep, and this third group are called PHAs, aka poly-hydroxy acids.

They have enough of their own unique benefits and different chemical structures to warrant a different classification from their other facial acid siblings, and they’re a group of ingredients that you won’t want to miss out on!

Dr Irena Eris Cleanology Refreshing TonerDr Irena Eris Cleanology Refreshing Toner | $55
This gently cleansing and refreshing toner is formulated with a hydrating and soothing PHA, Gluconolactone. 

What Are PHAs?

The first thing that sets PHAs apart from their AHA and BHA kin is their molecular size. Common PHAs you’ll find in skincare products are Gluconolactone, Galactose, and Maltobionic Acid, to name a few. 

Technically, they’re a subtype of AHAs - but they bring their own benefits to the table. Of all exfoliating acids, they tend to have the largest molecular weight - meaning, they don’t sink into the epidermis as quickly. 

I know what you’re thinking - isn’t that a bad thing? Don’t we want skincare ingredients to rapidly absorb into the skin?

Well, yes and no. When it comes to exfoliating acids, molecule size is linked to how irritating that particular exfoliating acid can be. Glycolic acid has the lowest molecular weight, which gives it the most potential for irritation. 

PHAs such as Gluconolactone and Lactobionic Acid can’t penetrate into the skin as quickly - however, this doesn’t make them any less effective at exfoliating compared to their AHA counterparts! Studies have found that a skincare routine based around PHAs compared to AHAs had similar results when it came to reducing the signs of ageing with less skin irritation - now I’d call that a win-win situation!

That means that you’re not really missing out on any significant benefits when you compare the two - however, the reason you’d go for PHAs instead is that they’re better tolerated by those with sensitive, easily irritated skin. 

La Prairie White Caviar Eye Extraordinaire Product image on white backgroundLa Prairie White Caviar Eye Extraordinaire | $805
This luxury skincare brand only uses proven skincare ingredients - including Gluconolactone in this potent eye cream. 

What Do PHAs Do?

PHAs actually have a whole host of other benefits for your skin than exfoliation - if you’re looking at a skincare product that isn’t an exfoliating toner but has a PHA in it, it’s likely that the formula takes advantage of at least one of these benefits for your skin.

Can Prevent & Repair Sun Damage

Sun damage, aka photo ageing, is the appearance of any pesky uneven skin tone and wrinkles before they’re supposed to appear, so to speak. Studies have found that gluconolactone can protect skin against UV exposure, effectively preventing the premature skin ageing that comes along with it. 

And that’s not the best part - researchers also found that PHAs, especially gluconolactone and lactobionic acid were effective at reducing the look of existing photodamage in all skin types and skin tones, making them an ingredient category to be reckoned with!  

Work as Humectants on Skin

PHAs work as even better humectants than AHAs, and noticeably improve both hydration and moisture levels of skin. They also support the acid mantle, an important part of our skin that helps prevent the loss of skin hydration through it evaporating away in the air. A healthy acid mantle, aka moisture barrier also helps ensure your skin is working just as it should, ensuring it bounces back from external stressors and damage. 

Dr Irena Eris Cleanology Bi Phase Makeup Remover product image on white backgroundDr Irena Eris Cleanology Bi-Phase Makeup Remover | $46
This gentle makeup remover effectively whisks away all makeup, even the waterproof kind. 

Act as Antioxidants

PHAs might be the only type of hydroxy acid that have antioxidant benefits for the skin - and the great thing about antioxidants is the more the merrier! Antioxidant molecules are crucial for maintaining radiant, healthy skin and shielding against skin-damaging free radicals.

These free radicals cause oxidative stress on skin, spurring on collagen loss for premature signs of ageing. By shielding skin against these stress-causing molecules, your skin stays radiant for longer!

Help Reduce Acne

Studies have found that PHAs are very complementary to retinoid therapy for acne, especially adult acne. This might be due to the fact that PHAs are less irritating than other acids for acne (even BHAs), and work synergistically with retinoids to improve skin cell turnover and skin texture for a breakout-free glow.

The benefits of PHAs depends on the type of product they’re formulated in, too - creamy moisturising or cleansing products with low concentrations of PHAs are a good sign that they’ve been added for their humectant and antioxidant properties, rather than exfoliative. 

GA-DE Gold Premium Lift Complex Firming Serum product image on white backgroundGA-DE Gold Premium Lift Complex Firming Serum | $187
Harnesses the anti-ageing and antioxidant powers of Gluconolactone in this potent serum. 

So what’s the bottom line? PHAs are multi-purpose ingredients - as exfoliators, they’re great for all skin types, but especially sensitive skin. They have multiple tricks up their sleeves, boosting skin hydration and repairing sun damage on skin.

Now that you know all the benefits of PHAs in skincare, will you be adding these superstar ingredients to your beauty routine anytime soon?

If you’re still trying to create the perfect skincare routine, try our skin quiz!

Beauty Affairs Skin Quiz

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