Skincare ingredients and products have become VERY confusing. And when they use abbreviations that remind you of alphabet soup, it’s even worse. To help clarify and unconfuse, I’m going to do a series of episodes on DermTV called, “Unconfusing Skincare Ingredients and Products.”
Today’s episode is on AHA vs. HA.
So let’s start with what these similar abbreviations mean.
AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acids.
HA stands for Hyaluronic Acid, also called Hyaluronan.
And people very often confuse AHA and HA with each other, thinking that HA is either a further abbreviation for AHA or one of the many different AHA’s.
So first. Alpha Hydroxy Acids, or AHA’s, are mainly used as exfoliants like glycolic acid and lactic acid. Many of you know that I believe that exfoliation is the single most important therapeutic treatment for your skin and that I also maintain that glycolic acid is actually the gold standard in chemical exfoliants. While lactic acid is a much weaker and therefore less effective exfoliant, it’s still used as an active ingredient in many skincare products. And it’s of great historical interest for two reasons: first, because it was the first AHA commercially available for exfoliation in the mid 1970s. And second, the reason Cleopatra took her milk baths was because of the lactic acid in milk which acted as an exfoliant to smooth, soothe and cleanse her skin.
Now that was a woman clearly way ahead of her time!
While HA, or Hyaluronic acid is also an acid, it’s neither an exfoliant nor an Alpha Hydroxy Acid. Rather, it’s a carbohydrate called a Glycos Amino Glycan or a Muco Poly Saccharide, which is a long unbranched polysaccharide.
Hey. I thought I said I wasn't going to be confusing!
Sooooooo in the spirit of unconfusing you, it's just a technical way of saying that it’s a lot of special sugar molecules linked together in a long chain.
Hyaluronic acid is a very important component of connective tissue in the skin and the main lubricant for our joints. In the skin, it provides moisture, it nourishes and it also gives support to your skin’s collagen and other structural and functional components of this middle layer of your skin, the dermis.
The reason it’s so important and such a great moisturizer is because it can bind up to 1,000 times its weight in water. That’s why so many facial and body moisturizers contain hyaluronic acid.
So when you see AHA, think exfoliant and when you see HA think moisturizer. While they are very different, they’re both very important to your skin.