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Why You Should Add Active Ingredients To Your Skincare Routine

Don't let acronyms like AHA and BHA intimidate you!
PHOTO: Pixabay

Acids may have gotten a bad rep for being the favorite weapon of the worst kontrabidas in the history of Philippine TV, but just because something is labeled an acid, doesn't mean it's going to burn your skin. There are types that are naturally occurring and are great for your skin—you just have to find out which ones they are. Here's everything you need to know:

The Difference Between Chemical and Physical Exfoliation

One way to treat dry, sallow, or discolored skin is to exfoliate either mechanically (a.k.a. physically) or chemically. At this point, you may be leaning toward physical exfoliators like scrubs and loofahs because you think they're less invasive. However, these run the risk of causing micro-abrasions on your skin, while stripping off its natural oils. Instead, try chemical peels and/or creams that use actives; these reduce superficial blemishes, can help control acne-prone skin, and stimulate renewal of the skin's surface.


Main Types of Active Ingredients

1. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) 

 AHAs slough off dead skin cells on your skin's surface. Products with AHAs are ideal for those who want to reduce signs of aging like wrinkles and fine lines, as well as those who want to get rid of hyperpigmentation due to sun damage. These are good for any skin type, but they work particularly well for those with dry skin because they retain the skin's moisture throughout the process. Here are the AHAs commonly found in skincare products:

  • Glycolic acid can be found in unripe grapes and sugar beets, and is used to produce chemical peels in skin rejuvenation treatments.

  • Lactic acid is a chemical produced by the body in your muscles during exercise. Avoid this ingredient if you're allergic to milk.

  • Citric acid is extracted from lemon and lime juices.

2. Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

 BHAs on the other hand, go deep into the skin to get rid of deep-seated dirt that clogs your pores. These are great for acne-prone skin types because they dislodge your blackheads and make them rise up to the skin's surface, where you can treat them more easily. Because BHAs are drying, they are ideal for those with oily skin and not recommended for those with dry skin. You'll know your products contain BHAs if these are in the ingredients list:

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  • Salicylic acid is commonly found in anti-acne products. It is also used as a keratolytic agent for skin exfoliation, and comes in the form of salts.

  • Tropic acid is a crystalline acid obtained by hydrolysis of atropine.

3. Retinoids

Retinoids are derived from vitamin A, which is used primarily for eye and skin health. These essentially do what both AHAs and BHAs do; aside from smoothing out the skin's surface, they also clear out your pores. These are recommended for those suffering from acne vulgaris and signs of aging. Here are the two common retinoids you can find in the market:

  • Retinol is a topical retinoid that you can get over-the-counter.

  • Tretinoin (also called retinoic acid) requires a doctor's prescription because it's a lot stronger than retinol. Products with this ingredient can induce side effects such as redness, peeling, dryness, and flaking.

Incorporating Actives Into Your Routine

Ready to try actives? Here are some of our tips:


1. Skincare products that are readily available are less likely to be strong enough to have a considerable effect on your skin. If you want something more potent, consult your dermatologist—he or she will also be able to give you a customized prescription that will work best for your skin.

2. Apply your AHAs and BHAs once a day in the morning. Don't forget to apply sunscreen (very important!) and avoid sun exposure if you can.

3. If you're using products that contain retinol, apply them at night because these make your skin more sensitive to the sun, compared to other active ingredients.

4. There's no need to wait for the actives to sink into your skin before you move on to the next step of your routine.

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