Jumpstart Your Spring Skin Glow

Use alpha and beta hydroxy acids to transform your skin.

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As we near the end of this long, cold winter, it’s clear that harsh outdoor winds and arid indoor conditions can leave the skin dry, dull, and lackluster. One of the best ways to help gently lift away the dead skin cells, leaving skin fresh and glowing, is the use of glycolic or hydroxyl acids, which help reduce discoloration, improve acne, and the appearance of fine lines, and they also give the skin a healthy, radiant glow.

There are two basic types: alpha and beta hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s) are a class of compounds that have been used for thousands of years to help improve the look and feel of the skin. The most common type of AHA is Glycolic acid, which derived from sugar cane or made synthetically.

Glycolic acid works primarily through its exfoliation properties. Once applied, glycolic acid penetrates the upper layer of the skin, weakening the anchors that hold dead skin cells together. This allows the layer of dead skin cells to slough off, revealing the smoother, and more evenly pigmented underlying skin. It also helps to bind water to the skin to increase skin hydration, lending your skin a healthy glow.

Beta hydroxy acids (BHA’s) are an ingredient commonly used in skin care products. The best known BHA is salicylic acid. Most often, BHA’s are used for people with acne-prone or oily skin types because of the excellent penetration into the pores, removal of blackheads, and reduction of oil on the surface of the skin.

Proper use of AHA’s and BHA’s is based on an individual’s skin type. I find that most skin types, even those with rosacea or very sensitive skin, can benefit from some form of AHA. However, depending on sensitivity, only a once or twice weekly application of a cream formulated for sensitive skin may be tolerated.

Women with more oily skin types can use a glycolic toner or lotion everyday without risking irritation. For skin types in between, go for a glycolic acid-containing product every other day, increasing use as the skin gets accustomed to the product. It is not desirable, nor necessary, for the products to cause irritation to deliver radiant skin. The goal should be gradual improvements in the appearance of the skin with no irritation.

Note: Daily use of a product with at least an SPF of 30 is very important when using either AHA or BHA containing products because they render the skin slightly more sun sensitive due to a thinned dead skin cell layer. But this is a small price to pay for skin that literally glows with health.

Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi is a board-certified dermatologist and co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Surgery.

Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi is a board-certified dermatologist and co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Surgery.