“No pain, no gain,” can apply to a lot of things—but your skincare routine shouldn’t be one of them. Though many of our favorite pore-refining products leave a light tingle, your skincare routine shouldn’t be leaving your skin in searing agony, especially if you’re already quite sensitive. If many of the chemical exfoliants lingering in your vials of serums cause more harm than good, than it may be time to make the switch to something a little less harsh. Enter: Polyhydroxy acids, also known as PHAs.
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According to Dr. Michele Green, New York City-based dermatologist and contributor to RealSelf, PHAs have similar exfoliating effects as their more-common counterparts (AHAs and BHAs), without causing irritation or sensitivity. “These acids are much milder than AHAs or BHAs which makes them an excellent alternative for individuals with sensitive skin,” Dr. Green says. “PHAs are also exfoliants, however, they do not penetrate the deep layers of the skin. Instead, they exfoliate the surface of the skin which makes product absorption more effective.”
But, the pore-perfecting magic of PHAs doesn’t stop there: on top of being able to rid your skin of any dirt and grime lingering at the surface, Dr. Green notes that this ingredient also acts as a humectant, which can aid in moisture retention. In the simplest of terms, that means this trusty skincare hero can also help with any hydration issues you may have.
“Another added benefit is that it strengthens the skin’s barrier as they are enriched with antioxidants and can be combined with retinoids, unlike AHAs and BHAs,” Dr. Green says. “Also, PHAs fight glycation, which is a chemical process that weakens the skin’s collagen and elastin.”
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Now, ready to give this no-b.s. complexion polisher a try? Then check out our favorite PHA-infused skincare picks, below:
Undeniably one of the most popular of the PHA-infused products on this list, and is also a favorite of Dr. Green. This best-seller has a potent mixture of chemical exfoliants, yet is mild enough for even the most sensitive of skin types to use daily.
Ole Henriksen PHAT Glow Facial
One of my personal favorites, this new facial treatment uses the power of PHAs to reveal a brighter, plumper complexion in as little as 15 minutes—enough time to chill out and catch up on some work (or Netflix) while your complexion transforms.
NEOSTRATA PHA Facial Cleanser
Need an exfoliating cleanser that won’t leave your skin tight and dry? Then allow me to introduce you to this PHA-infused cleanser: another one of Dr. Green’s favorites, this face wash will rid your pores of any impurities without stripping your skin of its precious oils.
COSRX PHA Moisture Renewal Power Cream
In need of a moisture boost? Then give this rich facial cream a try: it’s filled with the hydrating trifecta of PHAs, coconut, and niacinamide to plump your parched pores.
Exuviance Moisture Balance Toner
Toners are the best post-wash addition to your skincare routine to make sure your complexion is fully cleansed, but sometimes they can make our pores feel too stripped. Enter: this toner, which is infused with PHAs to make sure your skin gets an extra cleansing boost without over-cleansing.