Ingredient Spotlight

PSA About PHAs

5 minute read

You've probably been seeing letters like PHA, AHA, and BHA floating around in the skin-universe, but have you ever done a deep dive into exactly what they mean and why they're included in your skin care?

If your answer no, then you're in the right place because today, we're doing an ingredient spotlight on PHA and why PHA is essential in your skin care.

A photo of a woman

We've done all the research for you and put everything into laymen's terms, so all you have to do is sit back, look pretty and enjoy this read.

What Are PHA's?

Perhaps the biggest question on your mind is what exactly does PHA stand for? Well, it's relatively simple. PHA is the acronym used for Polyhydroxy Acids. PHA's are a group of acids used in skin care products as ingredients to exfoliate the skin chemically.

While they fall under the AHA family, PHAs are larger than AHAs like glycolic acid or lactic acid. The most common types of PHAs you will find in your skin care products are:

  • Gluconolactone Acid
  • Galactose Acid
  • Lactobionic Acid

Because of their larger molecular size, PHAs tend to do the trick on the surface of your skin. They are gentle on the skin when they take a bit longer than their AHA family to sink into your skin properly.

The main benefit of PHA's in your skin care is to buff away dead skin cells gently. This action results in repairing skin and reducing skin damage by making the skin texture and tone look more even and smooth.

What Skin Types Are PHAs Best Suited For?

PHA's are immaculate for sensitive skin types (i.e. skin prone to redness and irritation) in how they are typically non-irritating because of their larger molecular size. While this may be true for most, everyone's skin is different, and you may want to prepare for some discomfort if it's your first time using PHA.

PHAs are also humectants, which means they draw and lock-in water moisture—something for all you dry skin folks out there to consider. One of the neatest things about PHAs I found while researching the ingredient is that they are great in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

A photo of a woman applying facial oil

If you're experiencing typical signs of aging but would still like to tend to these signs, PHA's are excellent for combating glycation, which is a process where your skin's collagen and elastin start to weaken.

Are There Any Side Effects Associated With Using PHAs?


The whole point of using PHAs in skin care is because they have little-to-no side effects. Instead of working deep within the skin, they keep your surface layers supple and bright. But because PHAs are still within the acids family, a patch test is always a good idea before going straight onto more sensitive areas of your face!

a photo of patch test

How To Use PHAs

The best way to use PHAs is through products that have to stay on your skin for a prolonged period. This time frame allows PHAs to sink into your skin and work more efficiently and slowly. Because they are chemical exfoliants, you can find PHAs in liquid exfoliants, toners, masks, and moisturizers.

You can also use PHAs in combination with other acids and plenty of other treatments! For example, you can combine PHAs with retinoids to combat acne.

Our Fresh Picks For PHA Products

Glossier Solution - $29

This exfoliating skin perfector is Glossier's daily exfoliating treatment. The ingredients and their benefits of this treatment include:

  • Three acids: AHA, BHA, and PHA for chemical exfoliation
  • Daily use helps improve the appearance of blemishes, visible redness and enlarged pores.

The formula is vegan and cruelty-free and is best for clearing, illuminating, and smoothing the skin.

The Inkey List PHA Toner - $9.99

The Inkey List PHA toner is made up of these key ingredients:

  • 3% PHA to help improve skin texture
  • 3% Niacinamide to help reduce excess oil and improve uneven skin tone
  • Aloe vera leaf juice to reduce inflammation and soothe skin

Gentle enough to be used in the AM and PM. After cleansing, saturate a cotton pad and sweep across the face and neck. It does not need to be rinsed off. Follow with preferred serums and moisturizer.

Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Mask - $49

This creamy, nourishing mask is formulated with:

  • Antioxidant-rich Avocado
  • Antioxidant-rich Matcha
  • Exfoliating PHA

Best suited for dry, sensitive, normal skill or to tackle signs of aging and dullness, and the best part about it is that it works overnight to reveal softer and smoother skin come morning!

BENTON PHA Peeling Gel - $16

This gel is the best of both worlds because it provides both physical and chemical exfoliation. This formula contains:

  • Naturally-derived cellulose for buff away dead skin cells and excess sebum
  • PHA for skin smoothing and brightening
  • Ceramide, hyaluronic acid, and chrysanthemum extract to replenish moisture and soothe skin

Mild yet effective, this gel exfoliator is perfect for dry, sensitive, and acne-prone skin types.

HANSKIN Pre Cleansing Balm [PHA] - $22

Got sensitive skin? Blackheads? Rough texture? If yes, this may be the product you've needed all along. Formulated with:

  • Gentle PHAs to exfoliate and clear pores
  • Olive oil and primrose oil to condition

Scoop a generous amount into the palm of your hands and rub to melt. Massage over dry skin to remove makeup and other impurities, then add a splash of lukewarm water to emulsify and wash away impurities. Finish up your double cleanse with a cleanser of your choice.