How much do you know about some of the skin’s best allies for acne and antiaging? Alpha hydroxy acids used in skincare include glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid and mandelic acid. Salicylic acid represents the only beta hydroxy acid used on the skin. But what really is the difference between alpha and beta hydroxy acids?

The common misconceptions are that the beta hydroxy salicylic acid is lipophilic (oil-loving) and meant for oily acne-prone skin, while the alpha hydroxy’s are hydrophilic (water-loving) and better for antiaging.

Many physicians still explain this incorrect generalization to patients when discussing hydroxy acids.

alpha hydroxy acids

Skin Innovations physician contributor Dr. Desmer Destang has extensive experience with hydroxy acids, and teaches aesthetic physicians on the correct uses of active skin ingedients.

She explains that “the difference between alpha and beta hydroxy acids is based on chemistry – these acids have carboxylic and hydroxyl functional groups. The alpha’s have a separation of 1 carbon atom, while the betas have a 2-carbon separation’.

Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid, has an affinity for sebum and oils based on it’s chemical structure having an aromatic side chain that binds to oil. But, so does mandelic acid. This also explains why mandelic acid as an alpha hydroxy has such strong effects on oily and acne-prone skin although it is an alpha hydroxy acid.”

Both types of acids are wonderful for the skin, and work by loosening dead rough skin on the surface. Eventually this dead skin flakes off and peels, revealing new softer skin. Depending on your skin, and the concentration of the acid used, this peeling can be at a low microscopic level which you almost cannot see, or it can be large flakes of peeling. Either way, your skin is regenerating and renewing itself. The amount of regeneration seen, however, tends to be proportional to the amount of shedding that occurs.

At home products contain lower levels of these acids, such as cleansers, toners and serums.

If you are looking for higher levels of alpha and beta benefits, see our series of home peels.

Note! Although you do these at home, they must be dispensed under the advice of your physician to minimize complications and burns.

Our top alpha and beta hydroxy acid home peels:

Our home peels are best used with our mandelic acid peel enhancer (use before you peel) and mandelic acid peel neutralizer (use after you peel). Full instructions dispensed by your skin care physician.

Don't miss out! Get immediate access to professional tips, expert advice & skin care discounts. Available at participating clinics.
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.
More Tips
skin bacteria and microbiome
Bacteria and Acne
WhatsApp chat