Actives - Retinol, AHAs and BHAs

Actives, what are they?

Your skincare routine can have an impact on the overall quality of your complexion, and with so many treatments + formulas on the market,

how do you determine which product is the right fit for you?

A great start includes recognizing the active ingredients to determine if it’s beneficial for your skin type.

How to Optimize your Routine:

We always recommend visiting your Health Care Professional or Medical Aesthetician before implementing any type of dermatological treatment or skincare regime. Secondary considerations would be to evaluate internal factors such as environmental, nutritional, digestive and hormonal wellbeing!


What is an Active Ingredient?

Actives are a regulated term to describe the biological agent in a formula which is expected to target, and improve signs of skin aging - such as dryness, wrinkling, pigmentation, etc.

Being able to recognize an active & its effect will help determine if the product is a right fit for you and your skin.  

Todays Actives, Explained:

  • Retinoids + Retinols
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s)
  • Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA’s)




Commonly Used For:

  • Acne + Scarring
  • Dark Spots & Hyper Pigmentation
  • Dark Circles Under Eyes

What is a Retinol?

Retinols fall under the term retinoids - a class of compounds derived from vitamin A, or showing structural and/or functional similarities to vitamin A.

  • Retinol’s are an antioxidant, helping preserve youthful, vibrant skin.

Prescription-based retinoids, like tretinoin, is a synthetic variation of vitamin A that is used to treat more advanced skin conditions. However, the focus of this blog will be on non-prescription actives!


How to integrate retinol into your routine:

Gradual is key with retinol, some literature suggests starting off with no more than three times weekly using a pea size amount. Since retinol is photosensitive, it is also recommended to apply this at night. However, some literature suggests retinol can be applied in the day time with SPF.   


Adverse Reactions:

Reported sensitivities to retinol include skin irritation & flakiness, exacerbating conditions such as rosacea + eczema. However, with appropriate guidance + consultation from your skin specialist – retinol can be a safe & effective way to rejuvenate your skin!


Why we love Retinol:

With consistent use, retinol may naturally brighten the skin’s pigmentation, combating dark circles & undesirable dark spots – it may contribute to giving your skin a “dewy” complexion, which is a term used to describe a young, vibrant, rejuvenated complexion.

Retinol is also an antioxidant, which in turn may contribute to the health & preservation of your skin.


What are Hydroxy Acids?

Hydroxy acids are a class of natural compounds used in skincare formulations to improve signs of skin aging.

They are primarily used as an exfoliator, and may improve:

  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Wrinkles + Fine Lines
  • Uneven Skin Texture
  • Moisturization 

What is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)?


Application of AHA’s have been traditionally known to remove the outermost layers of the skin’s surface layer (Stratum corneum), designed to improve:

  • Acne + Scarring
  • Skin texture + tone
  • Hyperpigmentation / Dark Spots + Photoaging

It’s also been demonstrated that creams containing AHA’S

  • Increase of epidermal thickness
  • Increased density of collagen
  • Positively altering the elasticity of the skin

Adverse Reactions:

Rashing, irritation, tenderness and increased likelihood of sunburn. However, with appropriate guidance + consultation from your skin specialist – AHA’s can be a safe & effective way to reprogram your skin.

In Summary:

AHA’s are very commonly found in formulations, affordable, generallllllllllllllllly not irritating.

Treatments using creams with AHA’s (glycolic + lactic acid) have been demonstrated to improve skin texture, and decreased wrinkling associated with photoaging, improving the appearance of shiny and smooth skin. 


Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA’s)



What are they and How could they Help?

BHA’S (oil-soluble) have been traditionally known to follow the same mechanisms of AHA’s (water soluble), however their solubility difference allows a slightly deeper penetration into the skin’s barrier.

BHA’S deeper penetration into the skin through sebaceous follicles, making it appropriate for patients with:

  • Acne-Prone Skin
  • Balance + Oily skin
  • Enlarged Pore Skin types

And in turn may improve:

  • Pore Sizing
  • Scarring
  • Improving skin Texture + Tone


Hydroxy Acids In Summary:

BHA’s + AHA’s have very similar mechanisms, however BHA is known to penetrate beneath the skins surface, providing a thorough exfoliation and may decrease the size of pores. AHA’s have been known to stay on the surface, provide great moisturization and may help with photoaging.


The Takeaway:

Actives should be approached mindfully to receive the best results. Concepts such as time of application, potency, and duration of use should also be considered in order to optimize your skincare routine, and minimize adverse effects.

No product is the fountain of youth, and results won’t occur overnight – consistency is key!

Being mindful of your stress, water intake, diet, hormones, genetics, and environment factors will also contribute to your skins appearance. So, approach your skincare routine as a lifestyle, which in turn will be reflective of the quality of your complexion!





Howard, P., Reeder, S.L., Dennis, D.D., Wamer, W.G. (2002). Alpha-hydroxy Acids: Consideration of the Biological Effects and Possible Role in Photococarcinogenesis. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 10(4), 258-261


Jung, K., Sacher, M., Blume, G., Janben, F., Herrling, TH. (2007). How Active are Biocosmetic Ingredients? SÖFW-Journal, 133. doi:


Komhauser, A., Coelho, S.G., Hearing, V.J. (2010). Applications of hydroxy acids: classification, mechanisms, and photoactivity. Clinical and Cosmetic Investigation of Dermatology, 3, 135-143. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S9042


Moghimipour, E. (2012). Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products. 6(2), 9-10. doi: 10.5812/kowsar.17357780.4181


Siddharth, M., Abhijit, D., Vandana, P., Korting, H.C, Roeder, A., Weindl, G. (2006). Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 1(4), 327-348. doi: 10.2147/ciia.2006.1.4.327


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