You’ve probably come across a ton of serums and creams that promises to give you that smooth, ageless Jennifer Lopez skin.
And if you’re like me, you’ve probably tried more than your fair share of fancy and expensive bottles.
This much is true: if you can invest in only one skincare product in your daily routine, it should be your serum.
Other steps like cleansing and moisturizing have functions that can be done effectively through products that won’t break the bank.
Serums, however, are made to be packed with a multitude of active ingredients whose sole goal is to nourish and restore your skin.
And you only want to feed your skin the best ingredients if you want effective and long-lasting results.
You’ll thank your skin when you’re 40 and don’t look a day over 30. 🙂
Your ideal serum should promote anti-aging, skin rejuvenation, and spot lightening among its laundry list of benefits.
And serums that have these inclusive set of characteristics usually have a good dose of alpha hydroxy acids in its formulation.
In this article, you’ll get a deeper understanding of how AHAs benefit your skin.
Most importantly, and this is where most people do it wrong, you’ll learn how to properly use and incorporate AHA serums into your daily skincare routine.
Once you have a grasp of these key points, you will not only maximize the benefits of alpha hydroxy acids but also avoid the usual pitfalls most people that start using AHAs fall into.
Now without further ado, let’s start.
- 1 How AHAs Can Fix Your Skin
- 2 The Benefits of AHA Serums
- 3 What You Should Know Before Using AHAs
- 4 How to Incorporate the Best AHA Serums in Your Skincare Routine
- 5 Editor’s Choice: The Best AHA Serums
- 6 Resources:
How AHAs Can Fix Your Skin
Alpha hydroxy acids are one of the most effective active ingredients found in skincare today. AHAs are used in the treatment of acne, scarring, pigmentation, dryness, and wrinkles. In fact, it is one of the most popular ingredients used to reverse the leading cause of skin aging today: photodamage (sun damage).
When applied to the skin, AHAs stimulate the exfoliation of old, roughened skin to promote cell renewal. Basically, this method tells your skin to speed up its regeneration process. This process includes efficient exfoliation, proper moisturization, and collagen synthesis for skin firming and recovery.
When we were younger, this isn’t really something we had to worry about because our skin is working at its optimal efficiency. However, as we grow older and expose our skin to damage, this regeneration process gradually slows down. This results in a slew of issues like clogged pores, dull skin, wrinkles, dryness, uneven skin tone among others.
AHAs can invigorate and revitalize your skin so it’s able to regenerate quickly and correct the damage that your skin has incurred throughout the years.
The Benefits of AHA Serums
Clinical trials have shown that hydroxy acids bring significant improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, tone, texture, and in smoothing wrinkles.
Alpha hydroxy acids were actually initially used in dermatology to treat other serious skin conditions like hyperkeratosis.
However, when they found that AHAs also promote softer and smoother skin, lightened blemishes, faded wrinkles and age spots; it soon began to have a major role in cosmetic skin care.
Further studies have also shown improvements in the skin’s barrier function and restored firmness.
In one scientific study, a twice-daily application of 4% L-lactic acid formulations (pH 3.7-4.0) lead to significant improvement in protective barrier function and reduces sensitivity to common skincare irritants like sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) after 4 weeks.
Major benefits of AHA serums include:
- helping diminish the appearance of fine lines and hyperpigmentation (acne spots)
- rejuvenates dull, lifeless skin
- smoothens out skin texture
- evens out skin tone
- combat mild acne, blackheads, and whiteheads
- restore hydration and maintain proper moisture levels in the skin
- improve skin barrier function and skin firmness
- improve effectivity of other skincare products
The higher the concentration of the acid and the lower the pH (the measure of acidity) of the product, the more effective it will be.
However, the strength of the formulation is also related to its ability to cause skin sensitivity.
One way to minimize this is by raising your skin’s tolerance to acids and lowering your skin’s pH levels through AHA toners.
Once the skin is conditioned enough, you can deliver higher concentrations of acids in the form of serums or chemical peels for more dramatic results.
What You Should Know Before Using AHAs
Everyone’s skin is affected by the skin type we were born with, our hormones, the environment, the skincare and makeup we use on a daily basis–the list goes on.
However, having a good idea of what your skin needs and its current condition is crucial in picking the right products.
There are several things you should consider before delving into AHA serums.
When you’ve gone through these general guidelines, you’ll have a better chance of picking the right product for your skin and be able to reap all the benefits AHA serums have to offer.
Here are the basic guidelines in choosing the right AHA for your skin:
- Choose the right type of AHAs for your skin type to maximize its benefits – Identify the skin issues you want to address and use the kind of AHA that would be most beneficial for your needs. The list of products below identifies the AHAs active in each product, as well as outlines what type of skin issues it can address.
- Be aware of your skin’s sensitivity or resilience to active ingredients – AHAs and other active ingredients are generally more effective at higher concentrations. That said, you might be tempted to use AHAs on a daily basis right off the bat. This is one of the most common missteps in choosing AHAs. Acids can be highly irritating if applied to the skin without preparation. Our skin needs to be introduced to the acids slowly, starting from the lowest concentration possible and worked all the way up. With this, you can avoid issues like irritation, redness, and other complications. As mentioned, this can be done through low concentration products like AHA toners.
- Incorporating it successfully into your skincare regime – knowing how to layer your skincare is crucial in getting the product to reach your skin and be fully effective. One basic rule of thumb is: products should be applied from the lightest to thickest consistency. So your serum should be layered sometime after cleansing and before your moisturizer. Another important point to remember is to wait until your serum is fully absorbed before layering on the next product. This should be around 5-15 minutes.
- Be wary of skin irritation vs. allergic reaction – Whenever you’re introducing a new product to your skin, especially if it has potentially irritating actives like acids, it’s important to check if you’re allergic to any of the ingredients. This is done by doing a patch test. This way, you’ll be able to differentiate between an allergic reaction and skin irritation. If it reacts in your patch test outside your face, you’re likely allergic. It’s best to take note and avoid the product overall. If it reacts to your face, it’s probably irritation. This isn’t a lost cause by far. One of the most common misconceptions people have is just because a product is irritating, it’s not working or you won’t be able to use the product anymore. You actually just need to start with a lower concentration of acids and work your way up.
- Observe precautions when starting to use acids if you have sensitized skin – If you have aggressively overused a product and currently have over-sensitized skin, it may be best for you to transition away from these harsh products to allow your skin to recover. Reset your skin’s natural barrier by going back to basics–a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Try going by this for a few weeks and slowly incorporate your products to better acclimatize your skin and avoid irritations. Generally, two weeks is sufficient for your skin to rebuild its compromised skin barrier.
How to Incorporate the Best AHA Serums in Your Skincare Routine
Below is a general skin care routine you can follow, applicable for all skin types. If you have several products that you layer, you can insert them between your serums and moisturizers.
One quick rule in layering products: apply them on from the thinnest to the thickest consistency. Make sure to also give them a few minutes to absorb. This technique will make sure that all your products are in full effect and work in synergy.
- Toners – You can use facial cotton to sweep off any excess dirt left by your cleanser. If you do a double cleanse or you’re confident with your cleansing routine, you can just gently tap the toner onto your skin to save product.
- Serums or other corrective products with active ingredients – start once every few days and work up to daily application
- Moisturizers – Or products with thicker consistencies and/or are oil-based.
- Sunscreen (AM) or Night Cream (PM) – Sunscreen is crucial if you have exfoliators in your regimen. They help protect your skin from any photosensitivity that AHAs bring.
Our recommendations for the best AHA serums are based on our comprehensive analysis of the product’s formulation, claims, value for money, and consumer reviews. We make an effort to be as objective as possible and give advice in good faith; however, our reviews may still contain conjectures and opinions based on our research and personal experiences.
It’s important to know that as with any product (especially cosmetics), what may be perfect for you may not be right for the next person. So as much as we want to guarantee that these will be everyone’s next holy grail, results can still be affected by individual factors like your current skin condition, the environment you’re in, use of the product, reaction to your other skincare, and so on. For best results, make sure to choose a product that is suited for your skin type and skin issues.
This website is for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Product or service details are collected directly from the manufacturer and other reputable sources during the time of this review and cited in the Resources section. We try to keep on top of new formulations when we can and update our data accordingly.
At the end of every review, there will be a link for you to check current discounts and other customer reviews on Amazon. These, along with some other links that redirect you to third-party sites, are affiliate links where we earn a small commission if you do decide to make a purchase. This is at absolutely no extra cost to you and will help in maintaining the quality of the site.
This website is our passion project, and our editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships. The choices we make take extensive research (which we actually enjoy because we’re weird and nerdy like that), including data from credible academic papers and user sources available.
Bottom Line: We objectively review a laundry list of top performing products, pick the best ones based on our results, and present them to you with all the key info so you can choose the most suitable one for your skin. If you decide to buy something, we earn a commission that helps cover site costs like hosting, design, research materials, etc. You don’t have to, of course, thank you for visiting us nonetheless. 🙂
Editor’s Choice: The Best AHA Serums
We’ve chosen the best AHA serums based on our analysis, product specifications, value for money, and consumer reviews.
Make sure to choose a product that is suited for your skin type and skin issues for best results.
DUFFY, D. (1998). Alpha Hydroxy Acids/Trichloroacetic Acids Risk/Benefit Strategies. A Photographic Review. Dermatologic Surgery, 24(2), pp.181-189.
Greive, K., Tran, D., Townley, J. and Barnes, T. (2014). An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, p.9.
Michalun, N. and Michalun, M. (2001). Milady’s skin care and cosmetic ingredients dictionary. 1st ed. Australia: Milady Thomson Learning.
SUEKI, H. (2001). Pharmacological Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) on Human Skin. Nishi Nihon Hifuka, 63(3), pp.221-225.
VIDT, D. and BERGFELD, W. (1997). Cosmetic use of alpha-hydroxy acids. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 64(6), pp.327-329.
VORARAT, S., AROMDEE, C. and PODOKMAI, Y. (2002). Determination of Alpha Hydroxy Acids in Fruits by Capillary Electrophoresis. Analytical Sciences, 18(8), pp.893-896.
WOLF, B., PASTER, A. and LEVY, S. (1996). An Alpha Hydroxy Acid Derivative Suitable for Sensitive Skin. Dermatologic Surgery, 22(5), pp.469-473.