What are Polyhydroxy Acids (PHA’s)?

Pha serum

What are Polyhydroxy Acids (PHA’s)?

Polyhydroxy Acids or PHA’s are the next generation of alpha hydroxy acids, AHA’s, and act as chemical exfoliants. Alpha hydroxy acids work to exfoliate the upper most layers of skin which results in a smoother, fresher and more refined look. Used over a period of time, alpha hydroxy acids help to enhance hydration and encourage firmer, younger looking skin.

So how do PHA’s differ from AHA’s?

PHA’s are similar to AHA’s in that they perform the same role of exfoliation, but unlike AHA’s, PHA’s are gentler on skin causing less irritation so common to many alpha hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids can cause itching, burning and tingling sensations and may also cause skin to dry out which is why they are not recommended for sensitive skin, rosacea-prone skin and skin prone to inflammation.

Polyhydroxy acids on the other hand, due to their larger molecular structure, penetrate the skin at a slower rate which is why they are suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, causing almost no irritation. Polyhydroxy acids remove dead skin cells to reveal softer, smoother skin with a more even skin tone.

Polyhydroxy acids benefits for skin?

There are several types of polyhydroxy acids for skin with the most notable ones being gluconolactone and lactobionic acid.

Gluconolactone is a powerful antioxidant and is the multi-tasker of all Polyhydroxy Acids. Its antioxidant properties protect skin from free radical and UV damage and helps strengthen skin barrier function. By strengthening skin barrier function, skin is less likely to be inflamed both from external and internal aggressions. Gluconolactone is a powerful humectant helping to ensure healthy hydration levels within skin. Gluconolactone also inhibits elastase, which is an enzyme that promotes the sagging of skin.

Lactobionic acid is derived from milk sugars and displays potent antioxidant properties helping to tackle the signs of ageing, pigmentation problems, large pores and an uneven skin texture. This type of acid is known to help promote skin firmness and to stop the degradation of collagen, the structural protein found within skin. Lactobionic acid displays powerful humectant properties helping to lock moisture within skin.

Incidentally Lactobionic acid is major constituent of organ transplantation preservation fluids because it suppresses tissue damage caused by oxygen radicals. This safe use of lactobionic acid on organs demonstrates its gentleness on skin.

These are the two main PHA’s which have been used in some premium skin care products. Aside from exfoliating the external dead skin cells, Polyhydroxy acids are known to enhance cell turnover resulting in healthy fresh cells which are always visible on skin’s surface. PHA’s are also known to encourage the repair process resulting in skin less prone to wrinkles.

Skin contains iron which is deposited from the blood. Whilst a good supply of iron-rich blood is essential for healthy looking skin, giving it a pinkish hue and helping to prevent a sallow look, iron deposited onto the cutaneous layer of skin actually causes skin to age at a greater pace, a process called oxidative stress.  PHA’s chelate with the iron in your skin helping to remove another causal factor of ageing.

When you use AHA’s, the exfoliation process on the surface of skin results in skin being more sensitive to the sun. Polyhydroxy acids, PHA’s, do not make your skin more sensitive nor do they make your skin become more vulnerable to sun damage.

Phytic Acid is also included in this formulation. It is found in the hulls of seeds and rice. Aside from its ability to exfoliate skin effectively and gently, phytic acid is also known to deactivate the enzyme tyrosinase which in excess causes hyperpigmentation. Phytic acid also displays mild skin brightening properties helping to freshen up a dull, lifeless looking complexion.

Who can use PHA’s?

Exfoliating skin has moved on from the harsh physical scrubs of the past to the use of chemical exfoliants such as AHA’s and BHA’s. For many people, the use of acids can be scary and with good reason. Overuse or applying the wrong strength of the powerful alpha hydroxy acids may result in red, raw and stinging skin. If you have sensitive skin, the chances are that you may not be able to use AHA’s at all.  Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxyl acid, BHA, may be milder but still unsuitable for those with acute sensitive skin, rosacea or eczema.

Polyhydroxy acids can be used by everyone whether you have sensitive skin, dry skin, oily skin or combination skin. Oily and combination skin types might still benefit from the additional use of Salicylic acid to deep clean pores. PHA’s don’t just exfoliate but are a reparative ingredient.

Do not mistake their gentleness with their effectiveness. Aside from its exfoliating properties, gluconolactone for example is very effective for pigmentation problems and an uneven skin tone.  Due to its ability to enhance cell turnover, it pushes up healthy pigmented cells very quickly to the skin’s surface whilst its exfoliating properties help to shed darkened cells.


Polyhydroxy acids were discovered by two scientists who also discovered Alpha Hydroxy Acids, AHA’s. This discovery resulted in the patenting of the Polyhydroxy acids and this duo went onto market their own skincare ranges which meant that including PHA’s into skincare was prohibitively expensive. The patents have now expired and I believe that we will soon see a surge of products containing PHA’s.

Garden of Wisdom’s PHA Plus Serum is a polyhydroxy acid serum which provides two types of PHA’s, gluconolactone and lactobionic acid, together with phytic acid. The polyhydroxy acids are each in therapeutic concentrations to provide the multiple benefits of gentle exfoliation, collagen manufacture, antioxidant protection, hydration, uneven texture and pigmentation. If you have sensitive skin then GOW's PHA Plus Serum provides all the benefits of polyhydroxy acids without the irritation of alpha hydroxy acids. 


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