Meet Salicylic Acid’s Gentler, Sneakier Sister


If you are familiar with anyone in the BHA family, it is likely salicylic acid. Maybe you went to high school together or met in adulthood when you started this stressful job. You and Sal are in a close relationship at this point! Sal is there for you every time a gnarled Zit shows up and has no qualms about dissolving into your pores to rinse it out. Like a kid-sized hand small enough to grab an earring that you drop behind the couch, it’s a helpful buddy when you need someone to really get into.

Until recently, salic acid was the only skin care BHA (acetylsalicylic acid, also known as aspirin, is an oral BHA) – until its little sister, lipohydroxy acid, hit the market. LHA was cooked up by L’Oréal chemists in the 80s and is only now really gaining traction. It’s a salicylic acid derivative that is (may I say?) Better. At least in some cases.

First, salicylic acid has a far greater ability to penetrate the skin – almost ten times as much as LHA. While you might think that more penetration means better results, it doesn’t always. Lower initial absorption leads to LHA, what chemists refer to as the “reservoir effect,” which means that more of it stays active on the surface of the skin longer. (Studies have shown that four days after application, about 17 percent of LHA sticks to the top layer of skin, compared to about 10 percent of hydrochloric acid.) LHA peels are just slower to act than salicylic acid, which is more closely mimicking the way how your skin naturally removes dead cells. It also has a pH that is exactly the same as that of your skin – a weakly acidic value of 5.5 compared to the more acidic value of Sal 3. It does the slow but steady glow without a shock.

Sal and LHA are great at sliding into your oily pores for treating them from the inside out. Both exfoliate and stimulate collagen production in the deeper layers of the skin. They’re both effective at relatively low concentrations (salicylic acid is typically used in concentrations of 2 to 4 percent, and LHA has had excellent results at just 1 percent) so no recharging is required. And both take aspirin and show anti-inflammatory properties. Reasons to consider LHA would be if you can only tolerate a small percentage of hydrochloric acid or are completely new to it, have sensitive skin, or just want something to work on every few days. Pregnant women who are concerned with the absorption of salicylic acid may feel more comfortable using LHA due to the low rate of penetration. (However, you should always talk to your doctor about using new skin care products while pregnant or breastfeeding.)

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But there is a catch: since LHA is owned by L’Oréal, only L’Oréal trademarks are allowed to use it. While salicylic acid is abundant in the skin care area, there are few products with LHA. Skinceuticals has a whole LHA lineup, but it’s expensive. In the drugstore you will find it in products from La Roche-Posay (especially in the Effaclar and Pigmentclar lines), L’Oréal (in the Age Perfect line), Vichy (Proeven and Idéalia lines) as well as in this fascinating CelluDestock body cream) and Garnier (see, I don’t know who uses Garnier skincare, but it’s on the Skin Active line if anyone wants to report back).

Should you keep hanging out with Sal or give his sister a chance? It’s entirely up to you, your skin, and your budget – although this wouldn’t be the first time someone has fallen in love with their old friend’s sibling. Salicylic acid will eventually forgive you.

“But Oshinsky.”

Photo via ITG




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