Polyhydroxy acids provide gentle exfoliation, so they’ll often work on the most sensitive of skin types.
The trouble is, they’re obscure and hard to find. Especially since most skincare companies haven’t added PHA’s to their products yet.
So I rounded up some of the PHA products that are available.
Let’s get started.
1. COSRX PHA Moisture Renewal Power Cream (Best for Dry Skin)
If you’re into K-beauty, you probably know all about COSRX. If you’re not, you should know that they offer straight-to-the-point products with a budget-friendly price tag.
This cream, in particular, can be a good introduction to PHA’s because it promotes two things. First, its thick, emollient-rich texture makes it a great moisturizer (especially for dry skin). Second, it contains PHA’s, which, as you already know, provides gentle exfoliation.
The caveat here is that it’ll make you dewy. While that might be great for dry skin types, it might not be the best thing for oily skin types. Still, you might be able to work it into your nighttime routine—you know, when you don’t have to worry about looking like a greaseball.
- Type of PHA: Gluconolactone
- Product type: Moisturizer
- Size: 1.69oz
Head’s up: If you’re allergic to coconut, skip this product because it contains both coconut fruit extract and cetearyl alcohol, a fatty alcohol that’s often derived from coconut oil.
2. Exuviance SkinRise Bionic Tonic (Best for Lazy Exfoliation)
Move over Stridex, there’s a new exfoliating pad in town. Okay, maybe Stridex is here to stay—a lot of people love the stuff. But if you’re sensitive to it (like me), Exuviance’s Bionic Tonic might be the way to go.
It works as a hydrating toner with benefits. First, it’s exfoliating (without drying out your skin). Which makes it great for brightening—get ready for your glow up. Second, it contains antioxidants (Vitamins A, C, and E). These ingredients, when used in the daytime, can protect your skin from free radical damage, whether that damage comes from UV rays or pollution.
The downside is that it contains fragrance and essential oils. So sensitive skin types (especially people with rosacea) should probably stay away from this product.
- Type of PHA: Gluconolactone, Lactobionic acid
- Product type: Toner
- Size: 36 pads
Life hack: Since this product is on the expensive side, you can cut the pads in half to make it last twice as long.
3. NeoStrata Bionic Face Serum (Best for Hydration)
Most PHA-containing cleansers/toners/serums are a guessing game—you don’t exactly know how much you’re getting. That’s not the case with this product. It contains a healthy 10% lactobionic acid.
The serum is pretty hydrating—I mean, that’s what lactobionic acid is known for. And aside from providing gentle exfoliation, it also has some brightening benefits as well.
Of course, with good comes bad. This product doesn’t make a good daytime serum. It’s sticky, so you might look shiny after application. Also, you can’t really wear it under makeup.
- Type of PHA: Lactobionic
- Product type: Serum
- Size: 1oz
History lesson: The geniuses behind Neostrata, Drs. Yu and Van Scott, discovered AHA’s, PHA’s, and a bunch of other skin-boosting ingredients. No wonder why it’s a dermatologist-backed brand.
4. Gold Bond Rough & Bumpy (Best for Body/KP)
Everyone knows about Gold Bond. But what most people don’t know is that their Rough & Bumpy cream lists gluconolactone as its second ingredient. It doesn’t stop there. This cream also contains a bunch of other chemical exfoliants and moisturizing ingredients. So it’s ideal for smoothing and softening skin.
The only negative thing I have to say is that I would never put it on my face. The ingredients are pretty strong and I would imagine that getting it in my eyes would be a disaster.
- Type of PHA: Gluconolactone
- Product type: Body cream
- Size: 8oz
Head’s up: This contains cetearyl alcohol (often derived from coconut oil) and cocoa butter. So if you’re sensitive to these ingredients, you might want to skip this product.
A PHA Primer
Here’s a quick recap of the PHA products mentioned in this article:
- COSRX PHA Moisture Renewal Power Cream (gluconolactone)
- Exuviance SkinRise Bionic Tonic (gluconolactone + lactobionic)
- NeoStrata Bionic Face Serum (lactobionic)
- Gold Bond Rough & Bumpy (gluconolactone)
Still not sure which product (if any) is right for you?
Let’s go over some quick definitions to help you on your way.
The first thing we’ll go over is the umbrella term—polyhydroxy acid (or PHA).
Generally speaking, PHA’s are a class of chemical exfoliants, meaning they can slough off dead skin cells. But that’s not all they do. They also provide anti-aging, moisturizing, and antioxidant benefits.
Because of their larger molecular structure, they won’t penetrate as deep as an AHA or a BHA. But this type of superficial exfoliation is what makes them great for sensitive skin types.
Now let’s go over the specifics.
While there are three types of PHA’s, you’ll only see two of them on the market:
- Gluconolactone (often derived from gluconic acid) is known for its strong antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that it can protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation.
- Lactobionic acid (often derived from milk sugar) also has antioxidant properties. But it’s mostly known for its water-binding (hydrating) properties, making it a better choice when it comes to moisturizing.