Polyhydroxy Acids Are Here to Shake Up Your Exfoliation Routine

Polyhydroxy Acids Are Here to Shake Up Your Exfoliation Routine I Mirra Skincare

Exfoliation just got real. I’m sure we’ve all seen the countless TikToks about the St.Ives apricot scrub and why we should be running for the hills as soon as we approach that section of the CVS shelves. But do we really understand why we should be avoiding these types of exfoliators? And what can we use instead to get rid of that stubborn texture? Let me introduce you to polyhydroxy acids.


1. What are Polyhydroxy Acids?

2. Chemical vs Physical Exfoliation

3. The Different Types of Chemical Exfoliants

4. Are PHA’s Ideal for My Skin?

5. Environmental Benefits of that Nobody Talks About

6. Incorporating PHA’s Into My Routine

7. Polyhydroxy Acids Recommended by Dermatologists

Key Points

  • Physical exfoliation is typically too abrasive on the skin causing microtears, and increasing chances of acne scarring. 
  • There are several different branches of chemical exfoliants. PHA’s fall under the AHA or alpha hydroxy acid category and are typically used for people whose skin can’t tolerate AHA’s
  • PHA’s aren’t as harsh and they have a hydration component, once again making it ideal for those with more sensitive skin
  • PHA’s can be incorporated into a routine roughly about 3 to 4 times a week unlike other exfoliants. 

What are Polyhydroxy Acids?

Polyhydroxy acids or PHA’s are a branch of chemical exfoliants. What’s a chemical exfoliant you may ask? A chemical exfoliant is simply a way of removing dead skin cells and build up just like a physical exfoliant. However, these types of exfoliators are not made with harsh microbeads that damage the skin barrier and they are environmentally friendly, too.

Chemical vs Physical Exfoliation

Why are physical exfoliants bad for our skin? Well, it’s not necessarily that these physical scrubs are detrimental to our skin, but mainly how we use them. People like to use these physical exfoliators multiple times a week or even daily. They spend too much time scrubbing away at their skin and not effectively removing the dead skin deeper than the surface.

In this case, less is more. By rubbing those tiny beads harshly into your skin for minutes at a time, multiple times a week, you are sloughing away your precious and delicate skin layers and making it more difficult for your skin to rejuvenate itself. This can cause micro tears, irritation, redness, scarring, increased sensitivity and sometimes even make existing acne conditions worse.

Chemical exfoliation is a much gentler and safer alternative. They work by penetrating the skin and loosening the bonds between the cells. Think of these cells as the glue that holds your skin together, it gets old and loses stickiness throughout time. So, polyhydroxy acids work to break down that old glue and help grow new and stronger cells. The epidermis, the most superficial layer of skin, “sheds” its dead skin cells that cause flakiness and uneven skin tone.

While the term “chemical exfoliants” may sound scary and harsh, it is in fact a more mild form of exfoliating. Not to mention, you can choose the percentage that best fits your skin mood. These chemical exfoliants come in a variety of strengths and combinations.

The Different Types of Chemical Exfoliants

Yes I said combinations; yes there are different types of these chemical exfoliants. The two most common forms of chemical exfoliants are AHA’s and BHA’s, that is alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids. But PHA’s are actually a “cousin” of AHA’s. They are a derivative of alpha hydroxy acids and belong in a separate branch of AHA’s, so we consider them cousins. 

Now, PHA is still a broad term that encompasses several different acids that share similar chemical makeups and essentially provide the same benefits. 

The most common polyhydroxy acids come in the form of:

  • Gluconolactone
  • Galactose
  • Lactobionic Acid

So, which is better? AHA’s, BHA’s or PHA’s? They are all beneficial for different skin moods and seasons. The main difference between polyhydroxy acids and the rest, is its molecule size.

Polyhydroxy acids have the largest molecule size and molecular weight out of the three. Because of this, it is physically unable to penetrate deep into the dermis layer of the skin, therefore it is not as strong of an exfoliant as alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids.

Are PHA’s Ideal for My Skin?

Because of this, it is particularly ideal for those with sensitive skin. Because it doesn’t penetrate as deep as other acids, it is less harsh and is catered towards those whose skin is easily irritated or is particularly inflamed. It is also the ideal exfoliant for those struggling with mild to severe acne because stronger acids may irritate the breakouts and cause the skin to pure even more. 

Along with their exfoliating qualities, PHA’s also have a hydrating aspect to them. They support the skin’s barrier function, locking in moisture and preventing trans-epidermal water loss. 

It’s clear that PHA’s have numerous benefits to the skin, but they also are a much more environmentally friendly option compared to physical exfoliants. Many people use these scrubs in their daily routine and love the tight feeling they are left with after each use. But those tiny, abrasive beads you’re using are actually small balls of plastic.

The Environmental Benefits Nobody Talks About

Not only are the bottles these scrubs come in being tossed away rather than recycled, but the microbeads they contain are also damaging our planet. The small balls of plastic cannot be filtered. After you rinse off the scrub, those microbeads flow down the drain and eventually into the ocean without breaking down and are consumed by many different types of animals, including animals we eat. Not only can this cause health issues to the animals but they could also end up inside the stomachs of practically anyone who eats seafood. 

Polyhydroxy acids also have additional antioxidant benefits. This helps protect our skin from pollution, sun damage, UV rays, smoking, and so much more. It also helps to protect from the breakdown of collagen. MMP’s (matrix metalloproteinases) break down the skin’s naturally occurring collagen, elastin, and other proteins. PHA’s inhibit these MMP’s from functioning, leaving you with added protection from the sun, and our highly-polluted air. 

Now, we know why we should be using polyhydroxy acid, but how can we incorporate them into our skincare regimen? Well I’m sure you’ve heard people say “don’t over exfoliate” in the skincare world. While this is very true and can cause over stripping of the skin, PHA’s are a much milder and gentler version of exfoliation. This means they can be used more frequently than AHA’s and BHA’s. 

Incorporating PHA’s Into My Routine

Dermatologists recommend that PHA’s be used three to four times a week after cleansing but before moisturizing. It’s also important to cater to your skin’s personal needs. It always helps to take a minute to look at your skin and see which areas, if any, need exfoliating. As with any new ingredient in skincare, it’s important to start off slow. Although polyhydroxy acids are on the gentler side, a patch test is always recommended when it comes to introducing new products to your routine. 

Polyhydroxy Acids Recommended by Dermatologists

As we can see, polyhydroxy acids provide great benefits to the skin and are suitable for almost every single skin type. Not only will you be able to see brighter, healthier looking skin, but you’ll also be helping the environment. PHA’s will definitely be revolutionizing the skincare game very soon.

Polyhydroxy Acids Are Here to Shake Up Your Exfoliation Routine I Mirra Skincare

Written by Jordan Hammaren


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  1. https://www.byrdie.com/what-is-pha
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/phas-for-your-skin-the-facts-behind-the-beauty-hype#The-facts
  3. https://www.bustle.com/articles/148562-8-exfoliating-body-scrubs-without-microbeads-for-an-eco-friendlier-way-to-cleanse
  4. https://phamix.com/2008/12/08/mmps-how-they-affect-your-skin/
  5. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/anti-aging/a35182033/polyhydroxy-acid-in-skin-care/

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