Friday, August 13, 2010

AHA, BHA and Retinoids-

With all of the letters, numbers, and ingredients that we have to pay attention to in the quest for our best possible skin, it's inevitable that some confusion may arise. Anyone on the lookout for anti-wrinkle, dark spot or acne treatments has no doubt heard at least one of these terms. Here, I quickly sort them out for you.

AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) are acids that are commonly derived from fruits, but can also come from milk (lactic acid), or sugar (glycolic acid). AHAs work as exfoliants by essentially dissolving the glue that holds dead skin onto the surface.

BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) works similarly, but is oil soluble, meaning that it can get past the sebum in clogged pores to break junk up and clean them out. For this reason, BHA (Salicylic Acid) is commonly found in acne treatments. Since these acids do not penetrate the top layer of the skin, they are most effective in treating surface concerns like flakiness, dry patches, and dullness. Since they help to lift dead skin off of the face, AHA/BHA may also improve the appearance of fine lines, acne and uneven skin tone.

Retinoids are derived from Vitamin A. Unlike AHA/BHAs, prescription retinol penetrates beneath the skin's outer layer into the deeper dermal area, and actually aids in healthier cell formation. This means a reduction in hyper-pigmentation (age/sun spots), acne and psoriasis. Retinol also stimulates collagen production, which means fewer wrinkles. At high-levels, it can actually help to protect from the development of skin cancer. Keep in mind, over-the-counter products containing retinods are not regulated and may not have the same effect as the prescription forms.

While it's true that all of these ingredients have an adjustment period, you should not assume that prescription retinol (Like Retin-A, Renova, or Tazorac) is harsher. I've used all manner of over-the-counter AHAs and BHA, some of which have actually given me second degree burns. (Origins Spot Remover, I'm looking at you!) I now use a low level prescription Tretinoin (Renova) cream and have had no irritation and only mild flakiness and dryness.

In both cases, sun protection is VITAL (if I knew how to make this flash in red, I would!) All AHA, BHA and retinol treatments will increase photo sensitivity- which means you are highly likely to burn if you attempt to go without protection while using these ingredients. Of course, since the sun is the major reason we have fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots, it would be ridiculously counterproductive to be treating these conditions without protecting the skin from further damage. But I don't need to tell you that, right?

I should also mention, if you think retinol is the route for you, make sure you consult with a dermatologist to determine what form and strength is best for you. I know it's tempting to order from one of the myriad of internet retailers, but resist. Your skin is worth the cost of knowing what you're getting is safe and appropriate for your skin.

1 comment:

Musing on Beauty said...

Interesting. I am currently using Avene products, as they have a few that contain Retinoid and I believe it's the highest concentration you can get without prescription. Plus, I know the company pretty well and I completely trust their formulations.
I have no issue with retinoid so far but I cannot use AHA/BHA on a daily basis as this is too drying. It does wonders to even skin surface and fight blemishes, though!

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