AHAs, BHAs and PHAs: Three Editors Put Liquid Exfoliants To The Test


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As we’ve mentioned, toners are back — in a big way.

They’ve been upgraded from the simple “expensive water in a bottle” of yesteryear to liquid magic that can make a serious difference to your skincare routine. Earlier this year, Trinny London released three liquid exfoliant toners that use different types of acids.  

Firstly, a quick explainer on the three different types of acids you’ll find in toners.  

PHAs: PHAs or “poly-hydroxy-acids” are a newer exfoliating category getting attention. By far the most gentle they have a large molecular structure, which sits on top of the skin providing superficial exfoliation. You’ll often find them paired with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acids and ceramides.  

BHAs: BHA or beta hydroxy acid is the only acid that is oil soluble, this means it exfoliates the lining of pores and clogged hair follicles that contribute to acne. While BHAs are most often found in products for acne treatment, they are also a good option when addressing dark spots.  

AHAs: Alpha-hydroxy-acids are the most frequently found chemical exfoliants and range in strength. They have a smaller molecular structure, so penetrate the lower layers of the epidermis. Glycolic acid, lactic acid and mandelic acid and malic acid are all commonly found AHAs with glycolic typically being considered the strongest, and lactic the gentlest. 

The POPSUGAR Australia team decided to put the range to the test, and report back on the results. Read on to see what they thought.

Valentina Todoroska, Managing Editor 

Skin type: Oily/Combo 

Product: Reveal Yourself  

Active ingredients: Malic and Lactic acid, succinic acid and amino acids for hydration 

Skin concerns: Oily skin and dermatitis 

After getting perioral dermatitis during one of last year’s many lockdowns, I started seeing a dermatologist to not only manage it but find a skincare routine that works for me and my skin type. At the moment, this is consisting of a vitamin C serum in the morning, eye cream, thick barrier cream (on working from home days, otherwise I’ll opt for something lighter) and sunscreen. In the evenings, I usually alternate between a retinol cream and jojoba oil and hyaluronic acid and a hydrating night cream. Being in my early 30s I want to manage fine lines and wrinkles and keep my skin looking hydrated and glowy, which this routine has helped me to achieve. I also want to control the oil being an oily/combo gal.  

Not wanting to freak my skin out with too many active products after last year’s said dermatitis, I dropped the retinol in my routine to trial the Trinny London Reveal Yourself AHA Exfoliant. I found this super easy to do with this product. I was really surprised by its texture; it feels like a nice mix between a serum and water. It’s clear and super light and feels nice to pat into your skin. I didn’t really notice a fragrance, which I love as I’m not a fan of overly fragranced products.  

The packaging was really a winner for me. I like the twist top because it keeps all the good stuff inside away from sunlight, disperses the product in the perfect amount and doesn’t get gunk or germs from fingers inside the product. Bonus points for being refillable too. When I applied it to a cleansed face, the product sunk into my skin straight away and had a little tingle to it but nothing overly intense. On waking up, I felt like it made my skin look super fresh and glowy. It’s definitely a product I’d keep using in my routine.  

Sangeeta Kocharekar, Lifestyle Editor

Skin type: Combination 

Product: Find Your Balance  

Active ingredients: BHAs (salicylic acid and willowbark), mandelic acid, prebiotics 

Skin concerns: Oily skin with pockmarks on my cheeks from bad acne in my early 20s.

My skincare routine typically consists of lots and lots of sunscreen during the day, and at night, retinol for a few days or weeks until I notice my skin getting too dry and flakey. Then I’ll stop using the retinol and load up on moisturisers and hydrating serums instead. Suffice to say, it’s not a great routine. So, I was eager to try the Find Your Balance BHA Exfoliant, which promises to balance oiliness.  

The first thing I have to comment on is the smell. I was not expecting it to be so pungent, and honestly… not the best smell. But I do like that they weren’t any unnecessary ingredients added to make it smell better — that to me says it’s a product that actually works and isn’t all just fluff.  

I’ve used it for about a month now, and while none of my pockmarks or discolouration has changed, my skin has generally felt clearer. I really notice it when I put on foundation and it goes on evenly and I don’t have any congestion to hide. I’ve had the occasional pimple still, while using it, but not that often.  

Will I continue using it? Definitely. My routine of drying out and then desperately trying to rehydrate my skin wasn’t working and this product did exactly what it promises to do — which is balance. 

Lyndsey Rodrigues, Entertainment Editor  

Skin type: Normal  

Skin concerns: Pigmentation and hydration  

Product: Tip-Toe-In 

Active ingredients: PHAs (lactobionic acid and gluconolactone), trehalose (sugar derived humectant)  

My usual skin routine is pretty simple and a bit lazy — I use an oil cleanser, anti-ageing serum and moisturiser in the morning and then at night I cleanse again and either use a night cream or pure rosehip oil. Prior to being pregnant I would also use a light retinol suspension every other night, so I’ll start doing that again now I’ve had my baby.  

My main skin concerns are dullness and uneven skin tone plus a little bit of hyperpigmentation on my cheeks from very old acne scars.  

My experience using the Tip-Toe-In exfoliator has been really positive. I love the packaging and the fact the bottle twists up to open so I can never lose the lid (something I always manage to do) — I also love that you can get a little refill for the product!

There is no smell to the exfoliator and it’s not sticky or harsh. My skin is not sensitive at all, so I dove right into using the product every other night before my night cream and I found no irritation or redness with doing this. I feel like I have already started to see a bit of an improvement in my pigmentation and my skin overall just seems a bit clearer and brighter after using this.

I am especially grateful for this as a new mum who is suddenly navigating the world of limited sleep and time. To that end, I also really like the fact that this product is quick and easy to use and doesn’t add much extra time to my routine. I have only been using it for three weeks so far, so I am definitely going to continue with it and hopefully see even more improvement.  

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