It has gone very cold in London lately, with temperatures up to -3, and to be honest, I haven’t been coping well with it. I’m guessing it’s due to the abrupt temperature change but I’ve been struggling with headaches and a sore throat all week.
Since this means I’m pretty much bound to the sofa or bed, I thought I’d use the time to share the latest additions to my skin care routine that are already making a difference: Actives.
Active ingredients are responsible for working on specific skin issues such as fine lines or blackheads, for example. Compounds like AHA, BHA and vitamin C have been scientifically proven to bring those benefits, however it is vital that beauty products contain the right concentration of these ingredients to really work.
Adding Korean products to my skin care and spending more time analysing what my skin needs and craves during the last year has improved my skin by heaps, but there are still certain things I’m trying to repair, mainly fine lines, enlarged pores and blackheads (specially those pesky ones on the nose).
Since my current routine wasn’t really addressing these problems, I’ve decided to add BHA’s and AHA’s to my skin care staples.
What are BHA’s and AHA’s?
BHA’s and AHA’s are both chemical exfoliants, which means they work by getting rid of built up skin and unclog pores to reveal clear, clean skin which in turn can absorb other skin care products better. Moreover, they can also stimulate collagen production and make skin firmer.
While BHA and AHA’s are both exfoliating acids, they serve slightly different purposes:
- great for fighting blackheads and enlarged pores by removing pore-clogging oil
- Reduce redness due to it’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties
- Dry skin, since BHA is also add mild moisture
AHA’s typically exfoliate the top layer of the skin, which can help with:
- Acne and whiteheads
- Fine lines and firming skin
- Acne scars and uneven skin tone
- Dry, dull skin
Quite a lot of benefits for just two ingredients, isn’t it? And although they carry the name ‘acid’ they are generally more gentle than using a face brush or other mechanical exfoliants.
Them most important factor to consider when using actives is skin pH. It is extremely important to use actives on clean, bare skin that has the pH. This means it needs to be at it’s naturally slightly acidic pH (which can be achieved by either using a low pH cleanser or readjusting it with a pH balancing toner) for the actives to do their job properly. The most common order is to use BHA before AHA as well, so that the BHA can remove unnecessary oils from the skin first. Lastly, don’t forget to use sunscreen on the following days (and always, ideally), since they leave skin photosensitive, which can cause damage if left unprotected.
As for the products themselves, there is of a myriad of choice out there. Paula’s Choice is one of the most well-known manufacturers of BHA and AHA based exfoliants, but I’ve recently found out that there is a Korean alternative called COSRX that seems to be cheaper and just as effective.
What I liked about COSRX is their honest and no-nonsense approach about their products. A lot of brands invest in cute packaging, interesting sounding ingredients and exuberant promises. However, when it comes to checking the ingredients, they can be a true downer. The COSRX products, on the other hand, come in simple, sturdy plastic bottles/containers and focus on delivering the right ingredients rather than appealing packaging.
Their website says the following:“It’s not tempting and good-looking cosmetics. However, only thinking of your skin health, we maximized good components and minimized harm ingredients in reasonable price with our honesty.”
This being said, it’s time to have a closer look at the two products I chose from their line:
BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
Ingredients: Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water, Butylene Glycol, Betaine Salicylate, Niacinamide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Arginine, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Xanthan Gum, Ethyl Hexanediol
The main ingredient in refreshingly this short list is salix alba or willow bark water, a natural source of salicylic acid. This ingredient has been used since ancient times; the Greek and Egyptians used it to treat inflammation and ease pain. Another ingredient that I enjoyed seeing on this list is niacinamide, a vitamin that can improve elasticity, even out skin tone and fade acne scars.
A quick COSDNA analysis only flagged butylene glycol as potential acne trigger with a score of 1, so ingredient-wise it’s looking pretty good!
After cleansing with a low pH cleanser, BHA should be the first product to be applied. The reason why you want to use BHA first is because it will get rid of the oil in your pores (which will make it easier for the AHA to work inside your pores afterwards) as it’s oil-soluble. Some people like to wait for 20 minutes before applying the AHA (if you’re using both) while others apply it immediately after. As I’m just starting with these products, I prefer to wait before applying the next, but if my skin is handling it well I might skip that in the future.
AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid
Ingredients: Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Water, Butylene Glycol, Glycolic Acid, Water, Niacinamide, Sodium Hydroxide, 1,2-Hexanediol, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Xanthan Gum, Ethyl Hexanediol
The main ingredients of this product are Pyrus Malus or apple fruit water – a natural source of alpha-hydroxy acids – and glycolic acid. Together, they address various common skin issues by removing debris and dead skin cells from inside the pores, fighting fine lines and fade hyper pigmentation/acne scars. It also contains hyaluronic acid for mild hydration.
As with the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, COSDNA only flagged butylene glycol as a potential acne trigger.
While using these two acids, there might be some purging on the skin (bear in mind this should not be overly irritating or painful, so check beforehand for allergies, specially towards aspirin), which is completely normal. Wait for at least 20 minutes before applying any other skincare product afterwards.
What I noticed about the AHA Power Liquid the first time I used it was the smell. It’s just…not nice. When I poured some on my hands my first thought was “Whoa, what the…what IS that smell?!” It’s sort of a mix of old gym socks with very, very fermented fruits. Thankfully, the smell is not overwhelmingly strong as to make it impossible to use, and it does fade after a couple of minutes.
The only active I am still missing in my routine is a potent vitamin C serum to further reduce fine lines, fade old acne scars and improve overall brightness, but it’s all ordered and hopefully will join my bathroom shelf soon!
As for now, I am using BHA and AHA 3x times a week, since my skin tolerated them pretty well from the beginning. Over exfoliation is a real problem and it can take lot of work and time to get skin back to it’s original condition if that happens, so it’s best to begin using them moderately only once or twice a week and observe how much your skin can tolerate.
Once I’ve used these two products for enough time to be able to judge if there is any difference (we’re talking at least once month), I’ll post a proper review on each of them. For now I can only reveal that I do enjoy using them and can already see some slight improvements 😉
Have you considered using actives or are they already part of your routine? How often do you use them? Make sure to let me know in the comments!
Have an amazing week,