Alpha Hydroxy Acid: 10 Skincare Benefits and How to Use it

Alpha Hydroxy Acid: 10 Skincare Benefits and How to Use it

Alpha Hydroxy Acid: 10 Skincare Benefits and How to Use it

You may cringe when you see the word “acid” on the label of a beauty product, but before you chuck it, take the time to find out more about the ingredient that contains such a scary word. Not all acids are created equal. And, contrary to popular belief, not all acids eat away at your skin à la Joker in Batman. In fact, some acids are so good for the skin, skincare aficionados purposefully search for products containing these acids, especially the one known as alpha hydroxy acid.

What on earth is alpha hydroxy acid, you may ask? Well, we at Poko love educating others about skincare, especially when it comes to busting myths. Here you will find everything you need to know about this lush ingredient and why you should incorporate it into your skincare routine ASAP.

So What Is This Alpha Hydroxy Acid You Speak Of?

Alpha hydroxy acids, also known as AHAs, are a group of water-soluble acids such as:

  • Citric acid (extracted from citrus fruits)
  • Glycolic acid (extracted from sugar cane)
  • Lactic acid (from milk or synthetic for vegans)
  • Malic acid (extracted from fruits)
  • Tartaric acid (extracted from grapes)

These forms are regularly used in skincare products. However, glycolic acid and lactic acid are probably the most popular and well-researched of them all. Especially glycolic acid, which is the most intensive AHA. These AHAs are the smallest ones, making it easy for them to penetrate the skin and work their magic. This is why you can find them in the most popular over-the-counter (OTC) AHA products.

While not as common, citric, malic and tartaric acid are used to boost the efficacy of glycolic and lactic acid. But what exactly do all these alpha hydroxy acids do for the skin? 

Must-Have Product - Poko Aha Exfoliating Treatment

When it comes to AHA products, Poko’s AHA Exfoliating Treatment can't be beat. 

No matter your skin type, our unique formulation helps combat dead skin, discolouration, the signs of ageing and scars. And it does all this while keeping skin hydrated and smooth.


The AHA Exfoliating Treatment is gentle enough to be used every day without disrupting your skin's PH level or stripping it, thanks to its unique formulation. Like all Poko products, the AHA Exfoliating Treatment contains natural ingredients that make it safe for even the most sensitive skin.

It combines the a-list of AHAs - lactic acid, tartaric acid and the mother of all AHAs - glycolic acid. These heavyweight AHAs are made even more effective thanks to the addition of malic acid and citric acid, which, if you can remember, boost the efficacy of glycolic and lactic acid.

The Poko AHA Exfoliating Treatment contains all the AHAs you could want in an exfoliating skin care product. It is an excellent addition to your skincare regime. Stop wasting time, get your mitts on the AHA Exfoliating Treatment and see the results for yourself! Your glow up is right around the corner.

What’s the Big Deal About Alpha Hydroxy Acid?

The big deal about AHAs is how loving and nourishing they are for the skin. The many benefits of alpha hydroxy acids prove this. 

So far, we know that AHAs can help:

Let’s take a look at how these miracle acids pull all this off.

Exfoliate Skin

Exfoliation is the primary benefit of AHAs. When used in over-the-counter skincare products, AHAs provide chemical exfoliation by loosening the bonds between skin cells allowing the build-up of dead skin cells to be removed, and making way for newer, healthier skin cells. Unlike manual exfoliation, AHAs provide a much gentler yet more effective exfoliating action. As a general rule, the more AHAs a product contains, the stronger the exfoliation.

Products that contain concentrations of less than 10% of AHAs are safe to use regularly, some even daily, if your skin can handle it. 

Besides the OTC AHA products you can use at home, you can also get a professional chemical peel from a medical practitioner. However, these peels use concentrations of up to 70%, so it is not recommended to do this too frequently.

Fight and Prevent Acne

Glycolic acid is particularly effective for treating oily, acne-prone skin. It aids in the removal of dead skin cells that clog pores and trap bacteria, resulting in spots. It does this by gently exfoliating the skin without creating tears or irritation, that would lead to more blemishes. Use a gentle OTC AHA product if you're prone to breakouts. Continued use may prevent future breakouts from occurring.

Other AHAs, such as citric and malic acids, are incorporated in some acne products to help soothe inflamed skin. If you’re looking for the whole package - clear skin, no inflammation and the prevention of future breakouts - look for skincare products that contain a combination of AHAs.

Promote the Skin’s Blood Flow

AHAs have anti-inflammatory properties that help encourage blood flow to the skin. This increase in blood flow allows blood to carry nutrients to the skin cells to receive the nourishment they need from oxygen-rich red blood cells. This is what sometimes causes the tingly feeling after using an AHA product. 

Increased blood flow benefits the skin in a number of different ways, such as promoting healing through the regeneration of skin cells, which can improve the appearance of blemishes and hyperpigmentation. 

Increase Collagen Production

Collagen is a fibrous protein found in the skin's middle layer, also known as the dermis. It is used to make connective tissue and aids in plumping and smoothing the skin. However, as you become older, collagen production decreases, and your skin is no longer the lush, smooth surface it once was. Factors such as UV radiation can also cause the breakdown of collagen fibres and lead to skin problems such as saggy skin and a dull complexion.  

Fortunately, AHAs can help rewind the clock. AHAs have significant effects on the dermis and the epidermis of the skin and help increase the production of collagen by getting rid of old collagen fibres and making way for newer ones. 

Hydrate Skin

Humectants are substances that attract moisture. Water-loving AHAs such as glycolic, lactic, and malic acid are all humectants that help the skin retain moisture, thereby keeping skin hydrated. These AHAs draw water from the air and the skin's deepest layers to the surface, giving your skin a glowing, supple appearance. 

Smooth Skin

As AHAs exfoliate the skin, they naturally smooth and improve its texture by gently removing dead skin cells, eliminating rough skin and clearing blocked pores. Skin is left feeling and looking smoother and more radiant.

Visibly Brighten Skin

Blocked pores and dead skin cells on the skin's surface are common causes of a dull complexion. When you remove these dulling factors from your skin, it quickly becomes more luminous. As mentioned above, AHAs break down dead skin cells when they exfoliate the skin, helping reveal the glowing, radiant skin underneath. 

Increase Product Absorption

Besides being effective themselves, AHAs can also help improve the performance of other products you use by increasing the rate of absorption in the skin. They do this by breaking through dead skin cells that stop products from penetrating the skin properly, allowing your other products to penetrate deeper and work optimally.

Lighten Discolouration

If you’re someone that suffers from discolouration from skin conditions such as hyperpigmentation or acne scars, you know how difficult and frustrating it can be trying to get rid of the marks. If you find yourself at your wit's end, reach for an AHA product. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends glycolic acid to improve the appearance of discolouration, and with good reason. AHAs have been found to reduce discolouration, and pigmentation by helping increase cell turnover.

Improve Visible Signs of Ageing

AHAs are well-known for their anti-ageing properties. According to a 2015 study, 90% of individuals who used AHAs for three weeks saw significant changes in general skin texture and condition. This is thanks to AHA's ability to increase the rate of cell turnover, which helps firm skin and reduces the signs of ageing, such as fine lines and wrinkles. 

How Long Does It Take To See Results?

While you'll be able to notice improvements in your skin from the moment you start using an AHA product, the best results of AHAs tend to be seen when used over a prolonged period. But the glow up is well worth the wait.

Are There Any Side Effects?

While OTC AHAs are safe to use at home, there are possible side effects. Especially if you’ve never used AHA before.

Side effects to look out for include:

  • Blisters
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Redness

Start by using an AHA product only every other day until your skin gets used to it. Depending on the strength of the product, you may then be able to use it daily, but this is not recommended for everyone, especially not for people that have skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis or eczema. Speak to your doctor first before using an AHA product if you have any skin conditions or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. We also recommend doing a spot test first to see how your skin reacts to the product, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Another factor to consider is photosensitivity. Sun sensitivity, UV damage and peeling are all possibilities. Regardless of the season or whether you'll be indoors or outdoors all day, you'll need to be vigilant with sun protection. Apply sun cream liberally in the morning and reapply throughout the day when needed. We recommend an SPF moisturiser such as Poko’s Daily SPF50 Moisturiser, which offers both UVA and UVB protection while keeping skin hydrated.

How to Use Alpha Hydroxy Acid?

How you use AHAs can differ depending on the specific product you are using and the particular AHAs it contains. We recommend using AHA products with a combination of AHAs at lower amounts rather than a product containing a high amount of only one AHA. This decreases the likelihood of irritation occurring while also improving the efficacy of AHAs such as glycolic acid, which becomes more potent when combined with other AHAs such as malic acid.

It’s extremely important to follow the directions on the label to ensure you are using it correctly. 

How Much Alpha Hydroxy Acid Should I Use?

As mentioned above, it is recommended to use products that contain less than 10% AHAs overall. This helps prevent any side effects from occurring. AHA concentrations are lower in daily use products such as serums, which usually have a concentration of 5% AHA, making them the safest to use. 

Read our similar blog on: 10 Causes for Dull and Tired Skin & How to Treat it


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