When looking at skin care labels or searching for new products to try, you may have come across AHA as a main or featured ingredient. AHA, which stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid, is a chemical exfoliant that loosens the top skin layer with old cells to increase cell turnover, bringing a host of benefits to your skin.  Alpha Hydroxy Acid What Can AHA Do for Your Skin

If you’re considering adding an AHA-based product to your routine or want to know its potential uses for your skin, continue reading.  

What are AHAs? 

Alpha Hydroxy Acids or AHAs are water-soluble acids that naturally occur in certain foods. They are among the three main categories of chemical exfoliants, along with beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs). AHAs are used in a variety of skincare to exfoliate the skin, as well as treat or improve certain skin conditions. 

The main function of AHA in skincare is to exfoliate the skin’s top layers, removing dead skin cells to make way for new ones. This helps even out your skin texture, as well as minimize or improve dull complexion. Some AHAs also have antioxidant properties and aid in stimulating collagen production. 

AHAs in skin care can be present in:

  • Cleanser or face wash
  • Toners
  • Serums 
  • Moisturizers
  • Face pads 
  • Peels
  • Masks
  • Scrubs

What are the different types of AHA? 

There are different types of AHAs used in a wide range of skincare products. Two of the most common ones are: 

  • Glycolic acid (from sugarcane)
  • Lactic acid (from lactose in milk)

Other types of AHAs include: 

  • Citric acid (from citrus fruits)
  • Malic acid (from fruits such as apples and cherries)
  • Tartaric acid (from grapes)

All AHAs work in the same way, but lactic and glycolic are the most well-known and commonly used AHAs. Glycolic acids have the lowest molecular weight of all AHAs, which means that they can penetrate the skin easily and work quicker. Lactic acids, meanwhile, have larger molecules and act slower, but this makes them an ideal option for dry or sensitive skin. They also have a lower risk of causing skin irritation.

What can AHA do for your skin?  

As previously mentioned, AHAs are water-soluble acids that peel or loosen the skin’s surface layer with old skin cells. They break the bonds between skin cells to encourage the growth of new cells and promote rapid cell turnover. The exfoliating effects depend on the amount of AHA in a product; more AHA means more exfoliating power. 

Other benefits of AHAs include: 

  • Help brighten skin and minimize discoloration – as AHAs exfoliate and break down the buildup of dead skin cells, they can reveal brighter and more radiant skin underneath. It may help treat different types of hyperpigmentation such as age spots, melasma, and sun damage. 
  • Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles – a 2014 study reported that after 21 days of using an anti-aging skin care system with AHA, 9 out of 10 volunteers experience improvement in skin texture and smoothness. Do take note, however, that AHA is more effective on surface lines and not deeper or prominent wrinkles.
  • Help stimulate collagen – AHAs (like glycolic acid) can also affect the skin’s deeper layers, which help promote collagen production. This is beneficial in minimizing lines and wrinkles and keeping the skin smooth and plump.
  • Hydrate the skin – some AHAs (lactic, glycolic, and malic acids) are humectants that attract water to the skin. Lactic acid, in particular, effectively exfoliates and replaces moisture, making it ideal for dry skin.
  • Help treat acne and reduce the appearance of enlarged pores – this is mainly due to AHAs’ exfoliating power, which helps remove or loosen clogs. There are also AHA products specifically made for acne-prone skin.
  • Help boost product absorption – AHAs can remove dead skin cells and gunk on the skin’s top layer, allowing other skincare products to penetrate better and nourish your skin. 

How to use AHA

Here are a few recommendations when using AHA.

  • Start slow – If it is your first time using AHA, you are likely to experience minor and temporary side effects as your skin gets accustomed to the product. This is why it is advisable to start slow or use it only once or twice a week and gradually increase frequency as your skin adjusts. 
  • Mind your skin and AHA content – If you have sensitive skin, make sure to choose a product with a low concentration of AHA. While it is true that higher concentrations can produce quicker and significant results, they are also likely to irritate your skin. 
  • Know which AHA product to use – AHAs are available in different types of products, such as cleansers, toners, and creams. If you have sensitive skin, it is advisable to start with something that you can wash off to reduce exposure or skin contact with AHA. You can choose other formulas such as toners or serums if you have normal skin or as your skin adjusts. 
  • Follow directions in the product you choose – Read the instructions and don’t exceed the amount or frequency of what the manufacturers recommend. 

Are there side effects? 

 Using AHA too much or a very high concentration can potentially lead to:

  • Irritated skin
  • Inflamed skin
  • Flare skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea
  • Burning and itching
  • Blisters

Just do take note that AHAs can also increase your skin’s sensitivity to UV damage, so wear broad-spectrum sunscreen daily while using. Reapply frequently or after every two hours to prevent skin damage.  

The AHA product we recommend

At Cutis, we have Dr. Sylvia’s AHA Resurfacing Serum, which has glycolic acid to exfoliate and renew. It helps exfoliate the skin to even out skin tone and resurface skin texture. Just be sure to wear sunscreen daily while using the product, as AHAs can make your skin sensitive to sunlight.


  • Gently exfoliates the surface of the skin
  • Targets dark spots and uneven skin tone
  • Improves visible signs of aging

Start by using our AHA Resurfacing Serum once or twice a week, and gradually increase the frequency as your skin gets used to it. You should also use a small amount and gradually increase the amount as your skin adjusts.

Browse through our website or blog for more skincare tips and product recommendations. And for non-surgical treatments that can give your skin a youthful glow and appearance, contact Cutis Medical Laser Clinics today and book a consultation with our aesthetic doctor in Singapore.