What are AHAs? Your Guide to Alpha Hydroxy Acids

What are AHAs? Your Guide to Alpha Hydroxy Acids
by Truly Beauty

What are AHAs? Alpha hydroxy acids are one of the most effective exfoliating ingredients in skin care. Brightening, smoothing, and line-lessening, there are so many AHA skincare benefits. 

What does AHA do for your skin? Whether you’re dealing with fine lines, clogged pores, or hyperpigmentation, AHAs can solve a slew of skin concerns. Pretty much everyone can benefit from using AHA in their skincare routine. Here’s everything you need to know about AHAs. 

What are AHAs?

AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) are chemical exfoliators that work on the skin’s surface to shed dead cells and renew the skin. Some of the most popular types of AHAs used on the skin are lactic acid and glycolic acid. 

Lactic acid is derived from milk while glycolic acid is typically derived from sugarcane. The reason these two are the most popular is due to their small molecular size, allowing them to more easily penetrate the skin. This makes them more effective at targeting specific skin concerns like fine lines, roughness, and discoloration. 

However, other AHAs do exist that can also benefit the skin, such as malic acid, citric acid, and mandelic acid—all known as fruit acids. 

How Do AHAs Work?

AHAs work primarily as exfoliants, helping to improve the tone, texture, and appearance of the skin. These acids function by loosening the bonds between dead skin cells, promoting their shedding. By exfoliating the outer layer of the skin, AHAs reveal fresher, smoother skin underneath. This process can help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation, providing a more youthful and radiant complexion.

Alongside this, AHAs stimulate the production of new skin cells and promote collagen synthesis. Collagen is a crucial protein that maintains skin structure and elasticity. By boosting collagen production, AHAs contribute to firmer, plumper skin. By increasing cell turnover, AHAs also help to improve overall skin tone and texture while preventing blackheads.

Additionally, AHAs can enhance the absorption of other skincare ingredients by removing the barrier of dead skin cells. This means other active ingredients are able to work more efficiently after exfoliation with AHAs.

Benefits of Alpha Hydroxy Acids

what are ahas | model wearing heart acne patch


AHAs are a popular skincare ingredient that you’ll find in cleansers, serums, and toners. Most people can benefit from AHAs because they treat a variety of skin complaints. Here are all the benefits of AHAs in skincare. 

AHAs Brighten Skin

AHAs like lactic and glycolic acid go deep beneath your skin’s surface to remove dead skin cells. This reveals fresh, radiant skin underneath. When there’s an accumulation of dead skin cells, the complexion can appear dull and lackluster. AHAs break down skin cell buildup so that skin appears visibly brighter.

AHAs Reduce Fine Lines and Wrinkles

AHAs can make fine lines and wrinkles appear less noticeable by exfoliating the top layer of the skin. This, in turn, stimulates skin cell renewal and boosts collagen production which gives the skin a smoother, more youthful appearance. What’s more, AHAs flatten the skin’s surface, making fine lines less visible. And because AHAs maintain the skin’s ability to retain hydration, these acids can be highly effective for preventing signs of aging.

In a clinical study, patients who used an 8% glycolic acid formula saw a significant improvement in photo-damaged skin after 22 weeks.

AHAs Minimize the Appearance of Pores

When skin isn’t exfoliated regularly, dead skin cells can get trapped inside of your pores which can lead to clogging. While you can’t change the size of your pores, clean, unclogged pores typically appear smaller since they’re not stretched with dead cells and debris. 

AHAs can also refine the pores thanks to their cell renewal powers which keeps the skin fresh and smooth. Exfoliating with AHAs on a weekly basis can keep your pores clean and less visible.

AHAs Fight Acne

By encouraging the shedding of dead cells on the skin’s surface, AHAs prevent clogged pores—a main cause of acne. You also reduce the risk of dead skin mixing with sebum which creates acne. 

AHAs aren’t as effective as BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) for combating acne since BHAs are oil-soluble and penetrate deeper into the pores. However, AHAs can still remove pore-clogging buildup that contributes to acne and this can significantly reduce your risk of getting breakouts.

AHAs Fade Hyperpigmentation 

AHAs are extremely effective for evening out pigmentation irregularities such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation occurs when the skin’s surface becomes darker. AHA for hyperpigmentation works by shedding darker skin cells from the surface to reveal fresh, even skin. 

Studies show that glycolic acid improves discoloration and skin texture at a level of 5% when compared to a placebo. It’s a highly effective ingredient for targeting hyperpigmentation.

AHAs Make Your Skincare Products Work Harder

By exfoliating the skin and accelerating skin cell rejuvenation, AHAs allow deeper penetration of skincare ingredients so you can enjoy the maximum benefits. When your skincare products absorb better into the skin, they work harder and provide faster, better results. That’s why it’s always best to start your skincare routine with an AHA cleanser to prep skin for products to come.

Best AHA Products

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite AHA skincare products that are guaranteed to leave your skin clearer, smoother, and glowier. 

Truly’s Our Stars Prevent Scars Blemish Patches

 what are ahas | Stars prevent scars acne patches


Patch up pesky breakouts with these adorable star-shaped acne stickers. They’re formulated with tea tree oil and glycolic acid to remove dead skin, decongest pores, and banish acne-causing bacteria. With a base of hydrocolloid to heal active blemishes in a flash. 

Truly’s Bodne Routine

what are ahas | AHA skincare routine for bodne


Got breakouts on your back, chest or butt? This 4-step routine will clear you right up. It comes with our award-winning bacne cleanser (thx Vogue), anti-blemish body mist and lotion, plus our heart-shaped acne patches. Packed full of AHAs and BHAs like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid.



Truly’s Moon Rocks Whipped Body Scrub

what are ahas | aha body scrub


Buff away dead cells and impurities to reveal your freshest, glowiest skin with this whipped body scrub. It’s made with a base of sugar blended with blue tansy and glycolic acid to rejuvenate the skin while fading dark spots and discoloration.



Truly’s KP Treatment Routine

what are ahas | kp treatment routine


Your 4-step solution for strawberry skin, aka, those rough bumpy patches that appear on your legs and upper arms. You get: a whipped body scrub, anti-aging polish, body butter, and pore-minimizing facial serum. All formulated with powerful actives like glycolic acid, citric acid, niacinamide, and retinol. Hello silky smooth, supple skin!

Side Effects of AHAs

What are AHAs and are there any side effects? If you’re new to AHAs, you might experience minor side effects as your skin adapts to the ingredient. These temporary side effects could include burning, itching, and dryness.

To minimize the risk of irritation, the Cleveland Clinic suggests using AHA products every other day initially. As your skin becomes accustomed, you can gradually transition to daily application.

Before incorporating AHA products into your routine, consult your doctor or dermatologist if you have a skin condition such as rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also consult their doctor before use. 

How to Use AHAs in Your Skincare Routine

what are ahas | aha body cleanser


For starters, consider which alpha hydroxy acid you want to use. Lactic acid is one of the best AHAs for sensitive skin as it’s a larger molecule and less likely to cause irritation. Glycolic acid is a more potent AHA since it’s the smallest of these acids. It provides more significant results but it can cause irritation if you use too high a concentration of it.

You’ll find AHAs in a variety of skincare products from cleansers to serums and creams. If you have sensitive skin, start with rinse-off formulas first to minimize your exposure to these active ingredients. Once your skin adjusts, you can start incorporating AHA serums and creams into your routine. 

To avoid irritation, start slowly. Dermatologists recommend using lactic or glycolic acid concentrations of 10 percent or less in the beginning stages to allow your skin to adjust to the active ingredient. Start once or twice a week, and then gradually increase to nightly use if your skin responds well.

It’s also best to apply them in the evening and apply plenty of sunscreen with SPF 30 during the day since acids can make skin more sensitive to the sunlight. Doing this can help to prevent sunburn, sun damage, and premature signs of aging such as fine lines and age spots.

Can You Use AHAs?

All skin types can benefit from using alpha hydroxy acids as long as they use them properly. Unlike retinoids, acids don’t repair skin by increasing inflammation. They remove the upper layer of dead skin cells to trigger repair. Even those with sensitive skin can enjoy the benefits of AHAs provided that they start slowly.

However, not everyone should use AHAs daily. If you have dry skin or sensitive skin, it’s best to use them no more than 3-4 times a week. Those with oily skin and acne-prone skin can benefit from daily use of AHAs since they help keep the pores clear and blemishes away.

Chemical exfoliants like AHAs are a smart choice for most people. Unlike scrubs, which can be too abrasive for the skin, AHAs work to gently dissolve dead cells rather than manually sloughing them away.

What are AHAs and are they suitable for you? Alpha hydroxy acids are suitable for most people as long as you approach them wisely. Whether you’re dealing with fine lines, acne, or discoloration, AHAs are a superstar ingredient worth including in your skincare routine.



Watch our AHA skincare products in action:


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