What are Polyhydroxy Acids (PHA’s)?

pha-plus-serum-mock-up-editorial

Polyhydroxy Acids or PHA’s are the next generation of alpha hydroxy acids, AHA’s, and act as chemical exfoliants. Alpha hydroxy acids work to exfoliate the upper most layers of skin which results in a smoother, fresher and more refined look. Used over a period of time, alpha hydroxy acids help to enhance hydration and encourage firmer, younger looking skin.

So how do PHA’s differ from AHA’s?

PHA’s are similar to AHA’s in that they perform the same role of exfoliation, but unlike AHA’s, PHA’s are gentler on skin causing less irritation so common to many alpha hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids can cause itching, burning and tingling sensations and may also cause skin to dry out which is why they are not recommended for sensitive skin, rosacea-prone skin and skin prone to inflammation.

Polyhydroxy acids on the other hand, due to their larger molecular structure, penetrate the skin at a slower rate which is why they are suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, causing almost no irritation. Polyhydroxy acids remove dead skin cells to reveal softer, smoother skin with a more even skin tone.

Types and benefits of PHA’s

There are several types of PHA’s with the most notable ones being gluconolactone and lactobionic acid.

Gluconolactone is a powerful antioxidant and is the multi-tasker of all Polyhydroxy Acids. Its antioxidant properties protect skin from free radical and UV damage and helps strengthen skin barrier function. By strengthening skin barrier function, skin is less likely to be inflamed both from external and internal aggressions. Gluconolactone is a powerful humectant helping to ensure healthy hydration levels within skin. Gluconolactone also inhibits elastase, which is an enzyme that promotes the sagging of skin.

Lactobionic acid is derived from milk sugars and displays potent antioxidant properties helping to tackle the signs of ageing, pigmentation problems, large pores and an uneven skin texture. This type of acid is known to help promote skin firmness and to stop the degradation of collagen, the structural protein found within skin. Lactobionic acid displays powerful humectant properties helping to lock moisture within skin.

Incidentally Lactobionic acid is major constituent of organ transplantation preservation fluids because it suppresses tissue damage caused by oxygen radicals. This safe use of lactobionic acid on organs demonstrates its gentleness on skin.

These are the two main PHA’s which have been used in some premium skin care products. Aside from exfoliating the external dead skin cells, Polyhydroxy acids are known to enhance cell turnover resulting in healthy fresh cells which are always visible on skin’s surface. PHA’s are also known to encourage the repair process resulting in skin less prone to wrinkles.

Skin contains iron which is deposited from the blood. Whilst a good supply of iron-rich blood is essential for healthy looking skin, giving it a pinkish hue and helping to prevent a sallow look, iron deposited onto the cutaneous layer of skin actually causes skin to age at a greater pace, a process called oxidative stress.  PHA’s chelate with the iron in your skin helping to remove another causal factor of ageing.

When you use AHA’s, the exfoliation process on the surface of skin results in skin being more sensitive to the sun. Polyhydroxy acids, PHA’s, do not make your skin more sensitive nor do they make your skin become more vulnerable to sun damage.

Phytic Acid is also included in this formulation. It is found in the hulls of seeds and rice. Aside from its ability to exfoliate skin effectively and gently, phytic acid is also known to deactivate the enzyme tyrosinase which in excess causes hyperpigmentation. Phytic acid also displays mild skin brightening properties helping to freshen up a dull, lifeless looking complexion.

Who can use PHA’s?

Exfoliating skin has moved on from the harsh physical scrubs of the past to the use of chemical exfoliants such as AHA’s and BHA’s. For many people, the use of acids can be scary and with good reason. Overuse or applying the wrong strength of the powerful alpha hydroxy acids may result in red, raw and stinging skin. If you have sensitive skin, the chances are that you may not be able to use AHA’s at all.  Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxyl acid, BHA, may be milder but still unsuitable for those with acute sensitive skin, rosacea or eczema.

Polyhydroxy acids can be used by everyone whether you have sensitive skin, dry skin, oily skin or combination skin. Oily and combination skin types might still benefit from the additional use of Salicylic acid to deep clean pores. PHA’s don’t just exfoliate but are a reparative ingredient.

Do not mistake their gentleness with their effectiveness. Aside from its exfoliating properties, gluconolactone for example is very effective for pigmentation problems and an uneven skin tone.  Due to its ability to enhance cell turnover, it pushes up healthy pigmented cells very quickly to the skin’s surface whilst its exfoliating properties help to shed darkened cells.

Discussion

Polyhydroxy acids were discovered by two scientists who also discovered Alpha Hydroxy Acids, AHA’s. This discovery resulted in the patenting of the Polyhydroxy acids and this duo went onto market their own skincare ranges which meant that including PHA’s into skincare was prohibitively expensive. The patents have now expired and I believe that we will soon see a surge of products containing PHA’s.

Garden of Wisdom’s PHA Plus Serum provides two types of PHA’s, gluconolactone and lactobionic acid and together with phytic acid, they are each in therapeutic concentrations to provide the multiple benefits of gentle exfoliation, collagen manufacture, antioxidant protection, hydration, uneven texture and pigmentation.  The best thing about PHA Plus Serum – it is a quality product at an honest price!
PHA Plus Serum £14 for 30 ml

This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner.

Shabir Daya | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • Vivien Lash

    Pure addicted to this stuff. Can PHA serum be used around the eyes?

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Vivien, so glad to hear of this. Use on face and lightly pat a small amount under the eye region.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Vivien Lash

    Thanks! Is Multi-Peptide also safe under the eye Mr Shabir?

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Vivien, I use the MultiPeptide on the face finishing the last traces under the eyes.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Alex Voronchikhin

    Are PHAs safe during pregnancy and lactation?

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Alex, PHA’s are considered generally recognised as safe for use during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Jo Gotsell

    Can you use this every day, when using GoW Granactive Retinoid? Also, could it replace Azeleic Acid? Is it a morning or evening serum?

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Jo, PHA Plus can be used every day both in the AM and PM regimen even when using retinoids. It could replace the azelaic acid.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Jo Gotsell

    That’s great to know. Thanks!

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    You are welcome Jo.

  • Jo Gotsell

    Hi again – do I use Niacinamide first then the PHA, or the other way around? I don’t want to discontinue use of Niacinamide. Thanks! (Just received my PHA today and excited to use it. ) I use Niacinamide morning and evening and Granactive Retinoid every third evening. Just got a new Azeleic acid as well but I don’t want to overdo it with acids…

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Jo, use the PHA Plus Serum immediately after cleansing followed by other serums and creams with the exception of vitamin C serum which comes first after cleansing onto dry skin. Completely agree on not overusing acids.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Julia Green

    can this be used instead of a moisturizer? i have oily skin and i just feel like itll be too heavy to layer…

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Julia, PHA Plus is an exfoliant that encourages hydration within skin. It would not be a substitute for a moisturiser. You might wish to consider Pure Squalene which is a very light oil that moisturises even oily skin types without clogging pores.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Julia Green

    thank you for the fast reply, much appreciated! also one more question, does pha cause a purge/initial breakout period?

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Julia, PHA’s are very gentle causing no inflammation and breakouts.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Julia, PHA Plus does not cause any purging at all. I would use it after cleansing and before the use of the spring water spray followed by your moisturiser.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Julia Green

    oh okay, i would assume it does since pha exfoliants increase cell turnover therefore would cause a brief period of purging. how many pumps do you recommend that i use?

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Julia, PHA’s do increase cell turnover but not as intensely as retinoids – they primarily break the bonds between the surface cells which is why they are exfoliants but because of the molecular size, they are gentle. One or two pumps is sufficient.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Renata

    Can I use PHA if I also use Tretinoin 0.025% three times per week and is it okay to use in the morning if I use a sunscreen? I currently use GoW’s 5% Glycolic acid and their Azelaic acid but as I suffer from some redness and thread veins I was wondering where in my routine I could incorporate this. Any advice would be greatly appreciated so I can also pass it on to the members of my skincare group.

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Renata, you can most definitely use PHA Plus alongside tretinoin and this can be used AM and/or PM since these alpha hydroxy acid do not cause irritation or sensitivity. I would not recommend Glycolic and Azelaic acid together in the same regimen so consider using them on alternate days preferably in the PM regimen; use after cleansing and before other serums.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Renata

    Thanks so much for the speedy reply – I don’t use the glycolic and azelaic at the same time but on different nights in between the Tretinoin but it’s good to have that confirmed not to use in same routine.

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Glad to hear of your routine.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • Tiago Cordeiro

    Are there any natural / vegan alternatives to obtaining these acids?

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Tiago, with the exception of PHA’s, most other types of acids naturally occur in small amounts in nature though they are all produced in a laboratory making them suitable for vegans. An example is azelaic acid, a skin friendly acid which is found in small amounts in grains such as rye and barley. This is now produced in large quantities in labs and the product is suitable for vegans.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir

  • http://www.victoriahealth.com/ Victoria Health

    Hi Julia, PHA Plus contains two of the gentlest PHA’s alongside phytic acid which is a gentle AHA. It may be that the phytic acid is causing these symptoms so perhaps you ought to try using this twice a week and see if these symptoms are greatly reduced.
    Best wishes,
    Shabir