Oil drop - golden

What are the benefits of using alpha hydroxy acids for oily skin?

There are a number of AHA’s available now in skincare products, namely: Alpha hydroxybutyric acid, Citric acid, Glycolic acid; Kojic acid, Lactic acid, Malic acid, Mandelic acid, Pyruvic acid and Tartaric acid.

They don’t all do the same thing and some are more useful that others in reducing over-production of sebum or clogged pores and acne, often associated with oily skin.

They work by loosening the bonds between dead skin cells, these then can shed more effectively and the skin underneath often looks more even and clear.

Which AHAs to Choose

I would suggest first trying glycolic, pyruvic or lactic acids for their exfoliating properties. They loosen the clumps of dead skin cells we all have, making it easy to wash them away and leaving skin feeling smoother.

Both Pyruvic acid and Mandelic acid also have antibacterial properties, so both are effective in helping prevent Propionibacterium acnes bacteria (P.acnes) from causing spots. They can both unclog pores and reduce oil production, but Pyruvic is better at exfoliating skin than Mandelic acid.

Glycolic acid is better able to penetrate, as it is a small molecule, so this can more thoroughly clear pores. Having said this, it can be harsh and not everyone can tolerate it. I can understand why you might want the ‘squeaky clean’ skin sensation if you skin is very oily and exfoliating will give you that effect, however, it isn’t necessarily the best solution for oily skin or necessarily desirable. Skin tends to look after itself when given the right help, if you strip the oil on the surface, this often signals that more sebum is required, so the skin duly makes more!

Salicylic acid - a Beta Hydroxy Acid

AHAs are water-soluble, so primarily provide exfoliation to the skin’s surface. If you were to use Salicylic acid instead, this is oil-soluble, so it can penetrate deeper into the pores and dissolve sebum and reducing the inflammation there.

Alternatives Azaleic acid and Niacinamide

These are two other ingredients to consider that could have a better outcome for over-enthusiastic sebum production.Azaleic acid and Niacinamide.

These two have a very clever effect on skin, both inhibit an enzyme - 5-alpha-reductase, which affects the the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This is a hormone that is one of the main culprits calling for the skin to produce more sebum.

Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid and not usually used for exfoliation, but is often chosen to add moisture and improve skin tone. It has antimicrobial properties that target P. acnes bacteria proliferation and it reduces inflammation.

Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is great stuff, I use this in a number of formulations. It can reduce inflammation and seems to settle whatever it is that seems to be out of kilter.

Botanical Extracts

These are a few that we use regularly, some we make as hydrosols, so they just need to be applied to skin like a cleanser, or as an extract, more potent, so in a formulation.

Witch hazel is an astringent and can make pores appear smaller and reduce oiliness;

Green tea extract contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and will reduce sebum.

Rosemary extract has antimicrobial properties and will help balance sebum.

Chamomile extract is very soothing and calming for inflammation in general and reduces oiliness.


People can develop excessive oiliness when their diet is lacking certain nutrition. If you consume a good balance of daily vitamins and minerals (baring in mind that a number of nutrients do need to be taken daily to keep everything working efficiently) this is less likely to be the cause. However, a number of vitamins and a few minerals have a marked effect on skin condition, if they are missing from the diet, problems often occur:

Vitamin A: This regulates sebum production - commonly found in carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach.

Vitamin E: An antioxidant that also regulates sebum production - commonly found in nuts and seeds.

Vitamin B6: This doesn’t affect skin as directly as A, E and C, but it is important in regulating hormones, especially those that….regulate sebum production! This is in fish, bananas, and chickpeas.

Zinc: This also affects sebum, but it also has a protective factor and good anti-inflammatory properties - found in oysters, whole grains, and legumes.

Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and D also impact overall skin condition, but not specifically over-production of oil. Increasing vitamin C intake can markedly improve inflammation, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and acne if the body is depleted. However, if you eat enough, there is no need to take supplements or add these topically, they have far less effect on people who’s diets are not deficient.

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