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Post in Skincare Aware

Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

I'm kind of confused by these and I heard that some can cancel each other out or interact with each other.  Would anyone be nice enough to give me a break down of these & any others that I should know?

Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

Retinol, is a highly active anti-aging ingredient that can be broken down or formulated depending on the percentage used into other names such as retinyl palmitate or retinoids.


Retinol is vitamin A in it's most potent form. It's name is dervived from the fact that it's beneficial in terms of vision (retina), but can lend itself to skin care and even teeth/bone care.


Vitamin A helps to resurface skin and tackles various issues such as fine lines, wrinkles, the appearance of pores, uneven skin tone, uneven texture, acne, and more due to the fact that it works by boosting collagen production and increases cellular turnover. This means it promotes healthier and repairative skin cell production so that damaged cells at the surface are quickly replaced, this minimizing issues at the surface of the skin and helping to refine texture, tone, color, and overall appearance. If you think about it, wrinkles and things like acne and sun/age spots are more to the surface as they are visible, rather than just attach the problem at the surface and grind down on skin, it works below to in a sense "push the problem upward and outward" until it's "shed" from the outer layers and diminished/softened.


Since vitamin A is quite potent in the form of strictly retinol, it's also available in more gentle forms like retinyl palmitate and retinoids (which can also be time-released or encapsulated for a slower absorbtion/delivery into skin). Most products on the market are seen with the "palmitate" lable at the end, making it not as strong as retinol itself, this can be beneficial to those with more sensitive skin or delicate skin.


As the skin care/beauty world isn't required to list percentages of active or inactive ingredients in their formulations, it's important to know how to read lables. Ingredients that mainly comprise a product will be listed first. Mostly "water" is the number one ingredient across the board, next are usually emulsifiers or hydrating/conditioning ingredients such as dimethicone or glycerine, then more emulsifiers to keep a product together and then the ingredients you want to look for.


In other words, if you're looking for an anti-aging product and it's marketed as "retinol" based, but it's actually "retinyl palmitate" listed and it's number 20 on an ingredient list or towards the end, chances are it won't really be a heavy hitter in treatment compared to a product that has "retinol" listed within the top 10 ingredients.


Time released delivery is coming more into the world of skin care, it's a way to get active ingredients ("retinol" itself) delivered to skin, but not in too strong of an impact. Since retinol causes a chemical based exfoliation (as it doesn't use physical particles to remove skin), it can indeed cause the skin to become sensitized or even raw feeling, especially when proper moisturization and sun protection doesn't follow a routine. Think of it like this, if you're using a product that cause newer cells to grow/produce at a quicker rate so you shed outer/damaged cells, if you don't protect the new exposed cells, they end up being vulnerable to UV rays, dry air, cold winds, heat, and other external elements, then causing more damage to what is new. Since this rate of reproduction/ridding of cells isn't natural or common, skin can take some time to adjust and condition itself to the potency of the ingredient. Time released products have the active ingredient "encapsulated" to allow for a slower absorbtion for the ingredient over the course of a few hours rather than all at once. It's like the difference of pounding an energy drink in 10 minutes compared to sipping it over the course of an hour.


AHA are alpha hydroxy acids. AHAs are chemical based exfolianting agents that classify dozens of active ingredients. Some of the more common AHAs are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid.


Glycolic and citric acid are sugars (not granuals) or acids from fruits, as in the juice. They help to brighten and in a sense do what retinol does, but of course potency levels are different. Glycolic and citric acids cover everything from orange, lemon, sugar cane, papaya, pineapple, and even grapefruit extract. The higher acidity levels in these acids are great for brightening as they break down darker/damaged areas of pigmentation to even out skin tone.


Lactic acid is milk sugars/proteins that are more gentle than glycolic acids as milk proteins also help to calm things like inflammation and redness. Perfect for more sensitive skin. It does assist with brightening (this is why greek yogurt/plain yogurt masks are a rage for DIY projects).


Mandelic acid is dervived from bitter almonds and even apples and also have an anti-bacterial properties.


BHA stands for beta hydroxy acids and is another classification that helps to encompass more/different chemical based exfoliants and ingredients. Specifically in the beauty world, BHA refers to salicylic acid. You may recognize salicylic acid in many acne based treatments/products as salicylic acid helps to not only even the texture of skin (by causing cellular regeneration), but also helps by keeping pores clear (perfect in terms of treating/preventing acne), and ridding skin of excessive bacteria.


There are also a classification known as poly hydroxy acids (PHA). PHAs have a better grasp on the development/change in keratin in the skin, making it great to treat things like rosacea, eczema, and other dermatitis issues. It's also helps to bind water better to cells, making it a bit more hydrating or at least offers the additional benefit of hydration to skin compared to just regular AHAs or BHAs on their own.


Feel to kick me a personal message if you have more questions or post here! Smiley Happy

Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

omg lylysa,

I copied and pasted your response to read another time cause its super details and am sure awesome but I need to go to the mall Smiley Happy

Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

Hahah, have fun at the mall!

Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

I agree with Violalea. This is an amazing explanation! I may have to save it to re-read in case I forget later.




Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

My pleasure, LolaVal! I'm happy this post could help more than just Catherineu2!


To Catherineu2, I think you a nail in the head when you asked this question, seems others had it in mind as well!

Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

THIS IS AMAZING, thanks Lylysa!! Smiley Happy I am doing some research on AHAs and this helped with that but especially retinol, which I would like to understand better too! Smiley Happy

Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

Wow lylysa- I'm def. printing this out!  Such valuable info. in lingo I can understand!  TY, TY!

Smiley Happy ~KAM

Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

I've been trying to find that out for a while with no success (granted, I did not spent hours reading research articles about it or something). Retinol and glycolic acid shouldn't be used together. That phrase has been quoted in a lot of articles by various derms/MD/etc and I believe it. However, I have not found any credible info about whether derivatives or other ingredients in the same family can be used together or not (retinol with AHA/BHA etc, I don't know). I also read somewhere that hydraquine should not be used with glycolic acid, but the info was sparse and credibility of source not confirmed. That's all I know.

Re: Can someone explain retinol, retinyl, AHA & BHA?

Thanks sooooo much lylysa! You're awesome!!!! I'm going to have to print this out and keep it for future reference. Can some of these counteract or interact with each other? I remember hearing something about not using retinol & either BHA or AHA because they cancel each other out or something.

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