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Not long ago, someone asked my opinion and recommendations for using products with beta hydroxy acids, salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids and vitamin C in products as part of a regular skin care regimen. While not new to the scene, it seems BHA’s, SA and vitamin C in daily skin and body care products are getting a lot of air time recently with all sorts of terrific hope-filled promises attached. AHA’s have been on the grid for skin care for a very long time with varying degrees of enthusiasm at different times. Since I was asked, I’m just gonna be honest here.

I’m not a big fan of beta hydroxy acids (BHA) or salicylic acid in products for home use because they tend to be harsh, unforgiving and can compromise skin considerably. From all my research, they are generally for use within specific medically-necessary skin treatment plans, not normal every day skin care.  There’s a need for qualified educated assessment of the skin, any issues, risks, benefits and the individual in using BHA’s to strike a balance. BHA’s and SA can be more harmful than helpful when not used appropriately for the person and their need. This isn’t really a one-size-fits-all ingredient or usage methodology, y’all. Yes, I know the advocacy for the use of BHA’s and SA says they deep clean, refine, unclog pores, dissolve oils and clear acne. But there are better, more gentle options for doing this that do not offend the skin or cause more problems than they help. A simple 3-5 step skin care regimen, the oil cleansing method or double cleansing technique for example.  Honestly, I would forego anything with beta hydroxy acids and/or salicylic acid in it unless your dermatologist has advised it. They are often overkill or way more than what is actually needed. I suggest looking for other less invasive options.

What about alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s)? Aren’t they harsh, leaving the skin red, irritated, scabby and splotchy? Not necessarily. While a clinically administered chemical cosmetic peel containing AHA’s can do this and are known to go deep to remove skin layers all at once, the alpha hydroxy acids used in over-the-counter products should not be as intense, concentrated or in high percentages to cause these type of effects. The key is products with gentle AHA’s in the right amount along with other ingredients to act as a light exfoliation with moisturizing and replenishing abilities. A gentle AHA product with more forgiving alpha hydroxy acids that can be used nightly or a few times a week would be a better option. Yes, we have that! Our Night Life™ AHA Night Time Peel is extremely gentle and nourishing to skin.  If you want to learn more about alpha hydroxy acids, I wrote about them in this article on the Neos blog.

But there are some contingencies to using any AHA product, be it regularly or on occasion. (1) AHA products should be used at night. You should never use AHA products during the day. EVER! Alpha hydroxy acids in daytime moisturizers, toners, serums, colored cosmetics, even wash-off products like facial washes. Just don’t do it. NIGHT TIME ONLY.  (2) Sun and UV light exposure can damage newly exposed skin cells and can cause a nasty photosensitive reaction. This is also why point #1 exists.  (3) Make sure you use a good sunscreen formulated for the face daily to protect new skin.  (4) Avoid using phototoxic essential oils, even if diluted to less than the recommended dermal max, when using alpha hydroxy acids. See point #2 for why.

And products with vitamin C? I strongly advise you don’t jump on this train without a good grasp of what Vitamin C actually can or will do for skin and how it can and can’t work in topical products. Hype sells but it’s rarely completely honest and unembellished. Frankly, you’re probably going to get more benefit inside and out from taking your vitamin C orally through food or supplementation than you will with a topically applied product. While I won’t say avoid products with vitamin C, I will say research, look at the science and peer-reviewed studies and become well-informed before you go find yourself a seat on the VitC Express. Additionally, vitamin C has some quirks and can destabilize a product quickly. Formulating with it is extremely difficult and requires advanced formulating knowledge and skills. Be very careful and make sure any products with vitamin C are well-formulated. Not all products you find being sold are up to snuff. Even with professional cosmetic formulators or large manufacturers, they don’t necessarily know what they are doing when it comes to including vitamin c in products. Since many consumers are moving towards smaller brands and artisan sellers, there are many smaller makers and companies out there throwing vitamin C in for label appeal without a clue what they should and shouldn’t be doing or why. I saw one recently that was grinding up vitamin C supplement tablets and using those in products. Another I saw was taking peelings from citrus fruits her family was eating, drying and pulverizing them, then using those in products. Still another was using lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange and tomato juices in products they were making and selling…..fresh-squeezed….by hand, per the brag. NO. Just NO! Please avoid products claiming to contain or actually containing vitamin C if you can’t assess them for safety and quality from an informed place of facts and knowledge. Or if you are not sure the company and brand knows their stuff and has qualified people formulating for them.

So that’s my current opinion and stance on these particular product ingredients. It may not be popular and some may adamantly disagree with me but that’s OK. This world would be very boring if we all thought, acted and chose exactly alike. Let it never be said I’m an advocate for a boring world or a programmed society.


Until next time, enjoy the Ahhh moments, y’all!


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