The Ordinary AHA and BHA Peel for Dark Skin

The Ordinary peeling solution with AHA and BHA.
The Ordinary Peeling Solution 30ml (1 Fl Oz). AHA 30% + BHA 2%.

In an article in Women’s Health, skin health expert Jane Scrivner said the following:

There is an inaccurate assumption that Alpha Hydroxy and Beta Hydroxy Acids shouldn’t be used on black and darker skin as they contribute to pigmentation issues. However, when used correctly, these acids work fabulously on black skin and Fitzpatrick 4-6 skin types.

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)

In my post on mandelic acid for darker skin tones, I mentioned that it is one of the three main types of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). The others being glycolic acid and lactic acid. AHAs are one of the most frequently recommended exfoliating ingredients in modern skin care.

Other lesser know AHAs that are frequently found in skin-care products include citric acid, malic acid and tartaric acid. All three of those are derived from fruits and sometimes referred to as fruit acids.

Glycolic acid (derived from sugarcane) is the most intense of these AHAs. It has the smallest molecular size, allowing it to penetrate the skin easily. If you have darker skin, you must be careful in the strength of glycolic acid that you use. Some dermatologists might not even recommend using it in your peel. Lactic acid is derived from fermented milk or synthetically.

AHAs are great at treating mild hyperpigmentation, including age spots, melasma, scars and uneven skin tone. However, if you have sensitive skin, AHAs can cause irritation. Most dermatologists recommend not using formulas with concentrations higher than 15 percent. AHAs in most cosmetic products operate at around a pH level of between 3 and 5.

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are a class of mild acids that are especially popular for skin exfoliation and in treating acne. There is only one beta hydroxy acid that is commonly used in skin care products, and that is called salicylic acid. It is derived from aspirin. BHA in cleansers, lotions and moisturizers works best at a concentration level of 1% to 2% and at a pH of 3 to 4. Per wikipedia, salicylic acid is used to treat warts, psoriasis, acne vulgaris, ringworm, dandruff, and ichthyosis.

The Ordinary Peeling Solution AHA 30% + BHA 2%

Perhaps the most popular peeling product on Amazon that contains both AHA and BHA is “The Ordinary Peeling Solution AHA 30% + BHA 2%”. It currently has a massive 37,000 reviews averaging 4.5 out of 5 stars. Moreover, it only costs $9.50. You cannot beat that price for such a popular product.

Note that “The Ordinary” is a brand from DECIEM. On the company’s website, this combination AHA plus BHA product is advertised as suited for all skin types. The average rating there is an even higher 4.7 out of 5 stars.

The directions for use on the face contain some warnings in order to prevent side effects.

  • Use no frequently than twice per week in order to avoid skin irritation.
  • Do not use on wet skin.
  • Apply evenly across face and neck using your fingertips.
  • Leave on for no more than 10 minutes.
  • Avoid any contact with the eyes during both application and rinse off.
  • Do not leave on for longer than 10 minutes.
  • The AHA in this product may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun and susceptibility to sunburn. Use a sunscreen and limit sun exposure while using this product.

The Difference Between Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids

While both AHAs and BHAs work in a smilar manner, they differ in how they penetrate your skin. Alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble chemicals that aid in the removal of dead skin cells. However, they can not go into the deep pores of your skin.

In contrast, beta hydroxy acids are lipid-soluble, meaning that they will dissolve in oil. Consequently, BHAs are able to penetrate into the skin pores where you have oily sebum buildup. BHAs can therefore exfoliate the dead skin cells that build up inside these pores and around hair follicles. Beta hydroxy acid are more suitable for those with oily skin that contains blackheads and whiteheads.

Mandelic Acid for Darker Skin Tones

The three main types of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are glycolic acid, lactic acid and mandelic acid. Among these three, mandelic acid is the most suitable and least harmful for darker skin tones. This is primarily due to its larger molecular size that is gentler on the skin.

Mandelic Acid for Hyperpigmentation

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid.
Mandelic Acid from The Ordinary.

Mandelic acid is especially popular in treating hyperpigmentation issues in people of color. It will help lighten dark spots over time by exfoliating the skin without causing any inflammatory reaction.

An especially popular product on Amazon is The Ordinary mandelic acid 10% + HA with alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and hydrating hyaluronic acid. This topical has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars based on almost 2,000 reviews as of the time of writing this post.

An even higher strength product is Naturium Mandelic Acid 12% plus Niacinamide. You can also purchase creams and gels containing this key ingredient.

A 2013 study from the US found that a combination treatment with vitamin C and mandelic acid resulted in successful short-term and long-term treatment of melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Mandelic acid does not kill melanocyte cells, so it will not exacerbate your existing hyperpigmentation and skin discoloration. According to New York based dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah, as told to Allure:

Despite its larger particle size, mandelic acid also delves deeper into skin than other AHAs because it is oil-soluble. Glycolic and lactic acids, on the other hand, are water-soluble, so they only work on the top layers of skin.

The Skin Benefits of Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid can improve your skin texture, clear your pores, accelerate cell turnover, exfoliate, brighten dull skin, and reduce areas of discoloration and excess pigmentation. The end results is even toned, clearer, smoother, brighter and plumper skin. Note that it is recommended to use SPF sunscreen when using this acid, since it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and UV ray exposure.

Other Alternatives

For people with sensitive skin, glycolic acids and lactic acids can sometimes cause side effects. In that case, mandelic acid is a great alternative. However, even the last mentioned can cause some skin redness and irritation. Make sure to also read my past posts on tranexamic cream for skin lightening and cysteamine cream for treating hyperpigmentation. If you are only interested in mild exfoliation and skin brightening, kojic acid is a good naturally-derived ingredient that is suitable for skin of color.

How often Should you use Mandelic Acid?

In the beginning, it is recommended to use a mandelic acid based product just one to two times per week. Thereafter, if your skin can handle it without any adverse reactions, you can increase the frequency of application to three to four times per week.