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What concentration AHA should I be using?

Hello Randy!

This might be more of a dermatology question but I was hoping you could help me anyway.
type of Alpha Hydroxy Acid is best for post-inflammatory
hyper-pigmentation (I have brown spots left over from my acne marks):
glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, mandelic acid, or
citric acid? What concentration of AHA do I need for it to be
effective? Are there any other considerations (e.g. pH of the solution,
applying wet or dry, oxidation, etc.)?

I've been currently using
Garnier Clinical Overnight Dark Spot Peel daily at night. I've noticed a
slight difference in my skin texture, but it's no miracle in a jar. I
haven't really seen an improvement of my blotchiness. Does this product
even have enough Glycolic Acid?

Ingredients: Aqua / Water, Alcohol Denat, Hydroxyethylpiperazine Ethane Sulfonic
Acid, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Glycolic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Algae
/ Algae Extract, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Salicylate,
Biosaccharide Gum-1, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Limonene, Linalool, Peg-40
Hydrogenated Castor Oil, PPG-26-Buteth-26, Parfum / Fragrance.

want to switch from a daily overnight peel to a weekly peel (I'd rather
be using Retinol at night, and it's awkward to layer both of them given
the texture of this Garnier Peel). I assume if I'm using a peel less
frequently I should be using a higher concentration? What concentration
is best for weekly peels?


  • Hi Emma. I don't know the concentration of glycolic acid in the Garnier product It does sound like you might be able to tolerate something stronger. 

    To be honest, I'm not really sure how to answer the rest of your question without doing some research and I'm really backed up right now. Maybe one of the other Forum members can help out with a recommendation for a stronger product for you. 
  • Hi Emma,

    When using AHAs there are a few things you need to think about:
    (Aplogies in advance since my reply is a bit dry and technical :-) and for not citing all the research articles since I am a bit pressed for time. )

    The first thing is the ph level of the product. AHAs are doing their job most effectively when the product is formulated with a ph between 3 and 4, the effectiveness drops off pretty steeply at a ph higher than 4.5. Since I have never used the Garnier product you've mentioned in your question I can't tell you how it is formulated and if it would even qualify as an effective AHA exfoliant, but you could test this at home with a couple of ph test strips from your local pharmacy or drugstore to see if it is in the effective range.
    The next thing you need to think about is the ph level of your skin, when using the product. The natural ph level of your skin should normally be around 5.5, depending on the cleanser you use in your skincare routine the ph level of your skin could be elevated for some time after you have washed your face. This is problematic since the higher ph enables your AHA to do it's job properly.
    You have pretty much three options to counter this problem. You could use a mild low ph cleanser, you could wait for up to 30 minutes after washing your face before you apply the AHA or if a 30 minute wait seems wayyy to long you could purchase a AHA/BHA toner to use imediately after cleansing it will lower the ph of your skin and you can apply the AHA right afterwards.
    As for concentrations, over the counter AHAs that are made for weekly use come in strengths between 5 and 10%. They come in a pretty watery toner like consistency. If you intend to only use it once or twice per week you can probably start at the higher end of the strength range.

    The three products I have used so far are the Paula's choice 10% AHA weekly exfoliator, the COSRX 7 Whitehead Power Liquid, and the MIZON AHA 8% Peeling Serum. All three of them are formulated in an effective ph range.

    The AHA should be used on clean and dry skin. The common consensus (with the exception of the advice thread on the Paula's choice website) seems to be that you should wait for around 20 minutes before applying anything else to your face afterwards. You could even apply your retinol product later on since the consistency of the exfoliant is pretty water like and to my knowledge AHA and retinol can be used in conjunction without problems.

    A few words of caution:
    Since the AHAs I've mentioned are very effective, I recommend that you incorporate them slowly into your current routine. Start with a single treatment per week and work your way up. That way you can see how your skin reacts.
    Overexfoliation should be avoided at any cost since it weakens the protective barrier of your skin and worst case makes your more prone to acne breakouts.
    Last but not least invest in a good broad spectrum sunscreen. The use of AHAs will increase the photosensitivity of your skin dramatically leaving it more vulnerable to sunburns and all the illeffects that come with them.

    Unfortnately I never came across a research article that explained the effects of the differents acids and weather one of them is better than the others for fading hyperpigmentation.

    Other things you could try are a 20% L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) Serum or a Serum containing Niacinamide.

    I hope this helps. :-)

  • Hi Emma,

    You should definitely give Alpha Hydrox products a try, they can be purchased on Amazon. I love the 10% weekly AHA treatment from Paula's Choice but it is just so expensive. The Alpha Hydrox standard 10% lotion is the exact same concentration without all the extra "frills" and works just as well in my opinion. They do make a variety of concentrations and textures (lotion, gel, souffle, whatever that is), so you can see what works best for you. Good luck!
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