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Ingredients In Focus: AHAS

Model applying AHAs pad onto her skin in a studio setting

If the thought of putting acids on your skin scares youyou’re not alone. But, thanks to AHAs (that’s alpha hydroxy acids, for those of you who didn’t know) it needn’tall be doom and gloom. Just as gentle as they are effective, AHAs target all your common skin concerns– without running the risk of a complexion tantrum. So, without further ado, it’s time to face your fears and discover AHAslong list of benefits, along with just how soothing these acids can be! 


Otherwise known as alpha hydroxy acids, AHAs hold the title as the most popular exfoliating acids in the skin care sphere. While they naturally occur in sugarcane, milk and many fruit sources, AHAs are typically made synthetically when being utilised for cosmetic use. Solving a myriad of skin care concerns (we’re talking everything from hyperpigmentation to visible pores), they’re found in the majority of your daily rituals – from your cleaners and toners to your moistures and serums. Generally seen as the gentlest exfoliating option for most skin types, AHAs work by eliminating dead skin cells to help improve your complexion’s overall appearance and texture. 


Although there are many types of exfoliating acids that fall under the AHA umbrella (citric acid, mandelic acid, malic acid and tartaric acid, just to name a few) lactic and glycolic acid are the most popular of the group. Often used together to optimise their multifunctional benefits, this power pairing works in harmony to create visibly smoother and radiant skin. But how can you tell them apart? We’re glad you asked – keep scrolling to uncover how to differentiate the two…


Lactic acid’s main aim is to enhance skin smoothness, softness and texture. How? Well, this key component promotes the shedding of dead skin cells. What’s more, it’s a component of your complexion’s natural moisturising factors (also known as the NMF). By this we mean it helps your skin lock in water while delivering daily doses of dew. 



While glycolic acid may feature the smallest molecular weight of all the alpha hydroxy acids, it has some of the biggest effects on your skin. Naturally derived from sugarcane, it not only banishes the dead cells from the top layer of your dermis, but it also looks to calm sun damage. Plus, this vital ingredient can also be used to minimise pores, brighten dull patches and smooth over fine lines. 



Alpha hydroxy acids are hardworking and multitasking skin care ingredients that offer an abundant of benefits. Don’t believe us? Take a look at just some of the AHA benefits below. 

Exfoliation: As the primary goal of AHAs, these exfoliating agents diminish dead and dull skin from the top layer of the skin, allowing it to boost a natural, happy and healthy glow. To do this, they reduce the bonds between skin cells, allowing them to separate freely in a controlled manner. But it’s important to note that not all AHAs have the same exfoliating power. The level of exfoliation is determined by the type of AHA you use. As a rule of thumb, the more AHAs contained in a product, the more powerful the effects. 

Brighten complexions: When AHAs exfoliate your skin, naturally dead cells are broken down. So, that means new, more radiant, skin is revealed beneath. To optimise your illuminations levels, opt for products powered by glycolic or citric acid, as they help cell accumulation for an even brighter complexion. 

Hydration: Functioning as humectants, the acids work to lock in moisture and leave your complexion hydrated and balanced for longer. Not only does this quench the skin’s thirst but it helps to improve visible signs of sun damage too.   

Prevent breakouts: For those of you who didn’t know, blemishes occur when pores are clogged with dead cells, excess oil or bacteria. But fear not, that’s where your AHAs sweep in and save your skin. During their exfoliating process, these acids loosen and unclog your pores. The result? The reductions of enlarged pores and smoothness of skin. Oh, and the same principle applies for your body too. So, it’s not just your face that can benefit from AHAs...  

Boosts the effectiveness of other skin care products: Not only do AHAs have their own benefits, but they help all your other skin care saviours too (not all heroes wear capes, you know!). Increasing the productivity of all your other products, alpha hydroxy acids create a clear canvas for your complexion to reap the benefits of your remaining routine.


25 reviews


Revealing radiance, ELEMIS’ Superfood AHA Glow Cleansing Butter is primed to melt away dirt, debris and daily impurities. Fusing fermented pumpkin enzymes with acerola cherry, the brightening balm is naturally rich in alpha hydroxy acids in order to deeply exfoliate pores for a brighter and more balanced finish.  

How to use: To use as a make up remover, apply to a cotton pad and wipe gently over the face and eyes. To use as a daily cleanser, massage a coin-sized amount into dry skin and rinse off with warm water. To use as a deep cleansing mask, apply a thin layer to the face and leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing. 


2 reviews


Boosting your beauty sleep, OLE HENRIKSEN's Dewtopia 20% Acid Night Treatment is brimming with a potent blend of 10% AHAs and 10% PHAs (AKA polyhydroxy acids) to renew and revitalise your complexion as you snooze. Enriching lacklustre skin, this smoothing and soothing formula improves tone and texture by enhancing elasticity while targeting visible signs of sun damage. Bedtime has never been so tempting! 

How to use: At night, apply evenly to face and neck. You may experience mild tingling. If you are new to skin care acids, phase this serum into your routine slowly. As your skin adjusts, you can increase frequency. 


1 reviews


Enjoy a feel-good facial from the comfort of your own home courtesy of Kinship’s Insta Swipe Lemon Honey AHA Pads. Designed to exfoliate, brighten and clear clogged pores – in one, single sweep – these award-winning essentials use the brand’s patented Kinbiome probiotic to strengthen your skin barrier and make you dermis more resilient. What’s more, miniature in size, they’re easily transported – meaning your complexion doesn’t need to suffer when you’re away.  

How to use: Swipe a pad over clean skin. Do not rinse. Use in the evening three times per week and gradually build to daily use. Avoid eye area and don’t use on broken skin. 


14 reviews


An ideal introduction for those new to AHAs, Dr. Dennis Gross’ Alpha Beta Ultra Gentle Peel is the ultimate two-step revitalising and skin-conditioning treatment that gently eliminates dulling dead skin cells. Perfect for those prone to redness, this skin-saving set maintains luminosity as well as maximising the efficacy of your skin care ritual. It’s a win-win for all! 

How to use: Once a day, massage step 1 pad on to clean, dry skin, until pad feels dry. Wait two minutes then follow with step 2 pad. Do not rinse after either step. Make sure to use sunscreen daily to help prevent photo-ageing. 


2 reviews


Featuring quadruple peptide technology, Alpha-H’s Liquid Gold Firming Eye Cream looks to counteract puffiness, pigmentation and fatigue. Giving you the gift of glow, it’s specially created to brighten tired eyes while gently exfoliating the most delicate areas of your skin. But that’s not all, containing lime pearl AHAs, this treatment provides a natural source of fruit acids which is found in the rainforests of Australia’s east coast – impressive, we know! 

How to use: Apply to clean, dry skin using the metallic applicator wand. Glide a small amount of cream up to lash level and around the entire orbital area. Gently press around the periocular area using your ring fingers.  


So, now you’re an expert in all things AHAs, it’s time to treat your skin to the TLC it needs. Say goodbye to clogged pores and hello to a healthy, happy and hydrated glow! 

Trifonia Asmar
Trifonia Asmar Writer and expert
Cult Beauty’s Senior SEO Copywriter, Trifonia started out in the industry when bold brows were just becoming a ‘thing’, and shares a passion for all things fashion and beauty. Currently embracing her curly girl journey (after endless years of straightening her strands), she is finally reverting to her natural ways! When Triffy isn’t busy testing out the latest curl-saving solutions, you’ll find her binging the latest reality TV show or on a long walk listening to her ever-evolving country music playlist.

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