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3 Benefits of using lipohydroxy acid (LHA) in your skincare routine

This hydroxy acid can help exfoliate skin, treat acne, and more.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 31, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Liquid Oil Serum Drop in Pipette Isolated on Pastel Violet Background
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 31, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Want to exfoliate your skin? Lipohydroxy acid might be right for you. LHA is a versatile ingredient that deeply exfoliates skin, while still being gentle enough for sensitive skin. By targeting clogging debris and removing dead skin cells, LHA works to reveal a brighter and clearer complexion. 

Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know about chemical exfoliants and how LHA compares to other options. We’ll also examine the scientific basis behind LHA's three primary skincare benefits: exfoliation, skin renewal, and acne control. Let’s get into it!

What is chemical exfoliation? 

Chemical exfoliation involves the elimination of excessive corneocyte accumulation using chemical methods, as opposed to physical exfoliation, or scrubbing. In simpler terms, this process stimulates the turnover of cells, leading to a smoother surface. 

Chemical exfoliants commonly employed in skincare include alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic, lactic, and malic acids, as well as the beta-hydroxy acid (BHAs) known as salicylic acid,¹ and lipohydroxy acid (LHA) which is a derivative of salicylic acid.²

AHA vs BHA vs LHA

AHAs can be found naturally in fruits and plants, or they can be made in a lab. Some common examples of AHAs are lactic acid, citric acid, and glycolic acid. AHAs have many uses, such as moisturizing the skin and reducing wrinkles. They can also be used for deep chemical peels.³

The exact way that AHAs work on the skin is not completely understood. However, when AHAs are applied to the skin, they can increase its ability to hold water, which leads to better hydration and skin firmness.⁴

AHAs also help with the shedding of dead skin cells. They do this by interfering with the bonds between skin cells, which reduces the sticking together of these cells and helps remove the top layer of dead skin. This is why AHAs are sometimes used to treat acne or acne-prone skin. Some studies have shown that AHAs can increase the production of collagen, a protein important for skin structure, and other substances in the skin.⁵

BHAs, like salicylic acid, are similar to AHAs except for one key difference: their solubility. BHAs are lipid-soluble, while AHAs are water-soluble. This means that BHAs can penetrate into the skin through oil-producing follicles, making them suitable for people with oily skin and open comedones. BHAs have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and are generally less irritating to the skin compared to AHAs. When it comes to BHAs in skincare products, a concentration of 1-2% is typically found to be most effective.⁶

LHA is a special type of acid derived from salicylic acid that has some unique properties and benefits for the skin. It is often used in skincare products to help renew the skin, exfoliate, and treat acne.⁷

How does LHA work?

Donna McIntyre, a nurse practitioner at Curology says, “What makes LHA different from other chemical exfoliants is that it penetrates the skin slowly, which allows it to gently exfoliate each individual skin cell without tending to cause irritation. This makes it a good option for those with sensitive skin!” LHA has been shown to stimulate the production of substances like glycosaminoglycans, collagen, and elastin, which can make the skin thicker and more elastic. Additionally, LHA has the ability to help unclog pores and prevent the formation of acne.⁸

These qualities give LHA three distinctive skincare benefits. Below, we’ll explain each one.

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LHA exfoliates skin 

Many hydroxy acids (HAs) are known for their keratolytic effect, which means they help with exfoliation by breaking of connections between skin cells as they are shed. Both salicylic acid (SA) and LHA have been found to enhance the shedding of these cells, reducing the thickness of the outermost layer of the skin. However, SA penetrates the skin more quickly than LHA and leads to the exfoliation of sheets of cells, while LHA takes longer to penetrate and results in the exfoliation of individual cells. This individual cell exfoliation is believed to mimic the natural shedding process of the skin more closely.⁹

Both SA and LHA have been studied for their ability to increase cell turnover. It is theorized that SA and LHA may encourage the skin to produce new cells either by releasing certain substances during the shedding process or by physically stimulating the skin through exfoliation.¹⁰

LHA renews skin

LHA’s thinning effect on the outer layer of the skin (stratum corneum) is accompanied by a thickening of the skin’s deeper layer (dermis). In a study, the dermal effects of LHA were found to be comparable to those of tretinoin, a commonly used anti-aging ingredient.¹¹ This anti-aging effect is thought to be mostly due to LHA’s stimulation of structural skin lipids and proteins.¹²

Generally, HAs (including LHA) have been shown to elevate the levels of substances like glycosaminoglycans, hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin in the deeper layers of the skin, promoting a more youthful and rejuvenated appearance.¹³

LHA helps treat acne 

Lipohydroxy acid is well-suited to treat acne vulgaris by targeting clogged pores. In a study comparing LHA to no treatment, patients with comedonal acne applied LHA once daily for a month. After the treatment, special strips were used to measure the size and density of clogged pores. The results showed that LHA reduced the number of clogged pores by 47% and their size by 54% compared to the untreated area.¹⁴

Another small study observed 14 acne patients who used LHA twice daily. The analysis showed a significant decrease in the size and number of clogged pores, indicating that LHA has a positive effect on comedones. Although exact numbers were not provided, the data suggests an approximate 85% reduction in clogged pores from the beginning of the study to the 14th day.¹⁵

LHA has been shown to have comparable efficacy to benzoyl peroxide (BPO) at reducing acne, and it is often better tolerated. In one study that compared LHA to BPO as a standalone treatment for acne, LHA showed similar effectiveness and better tolerability compared to BPO so it may be an alternative for acne patients who cannot tolerate BPO.¹⁶

In one study, the effectiveness of a cleansing gel containing salicylic acid 2%, zinc gluconate 0.2%, and lipohydroxy acid 0.05% was examined in treating truncal acne (acne on the chest and trunk). The study involved 35 subjects with mild to moderate truncal acne, and they used the gel daily for 84 days. After the study period, a significant reduction in total acne lesions was observed (-56.3% after 84 days).¹⁷

Take care of your complexion with personalized skincare

Overall, the versatile nature of LHA makes it a valuable addition to skincare formulations, offering exfoliation, skin renewal, and acne control benefits. When used appropriately, LHA can help you achieve healthier, more radiant skin.

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Selecting skincare ingredients like LHA should not take guesswork. Take control of your skincare routine, give your skin the care it deserves, and experience the difference that Curology can make in achieving a healthier, more radiant complexion. Sign up for a 30-day trial* today to receive a personalized skincare routine from a licensed dermatology provider—catered to your specific skincare concerns. 

FAQs

Is LHA better than BHA?

What makes LHA different from BHA is that it penetrates the skin slowly, which allows it to gently exfoliate each individual skin cell without tending to cause irritation. This individual cell exfoliation is believed to mimic the natural shedding process of the skin more closely.

Can I use lipohydroxy acid with retinol?

Yes, LHA generally combines well with other ingredients. It’s important to ask your dermatology provider how to incorporate multiple products into your routine.

Can I use LHA daily?

In general, yes. LHA is usually gentle and well tolerated by most skin types, as expressed in the comparison of randomized trials all chemical peels were well tolerated, including LHA.¹⁸

What are the benefits of LHA skincare?

LHA is a special type of chemical exfoliant derived from salicylic acid that has some unique properties and benefits for the skin. It is often used in skincare products to help renew the skin, exfoliate, and treat acne.¹⁹

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Rodan, K., et al. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plastic Reconstructive Surgery Global Open. (2016, December 14).

  2. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (2016, November 1).

  3. Babilias, P., et al. Cosmetic and dermatologic use of alpha hydroxy acids. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. (2012, May 11).

  4. Babilias, P., et al. Cosmetic and dermatologic use of alpha hydroxy acids. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. Ibid.

  5. Babilias, P., et al. Cosmetic and dermatologic use of alpha hydroxy acids. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. Ibid.

  6. Moghimipour, E. Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products. (2012, January 4). 

  7. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  8. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. 

    The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  9. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  10. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  11. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  12. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  13. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  14. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  15. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  16. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

  17. Towersey, L., et al. Assessment of the Benefit of a Deep Cleansing Gel Containing Salicylic Acid 2%, Zinc Gluconate 0.2% and Lipohydroxy Acids 0.05% in Patients with Mild to Moderate Truncal Acne: Results from an Exploratory Study. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. (2023, January 17).

  18. Chen, X., et al. Chemical peels for acne vulgaris: a systematic review of randomized controlled trial. BMJ Open. (2018, April 28).

  19. Zeichner, J.A., et al. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ibid.

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA. 

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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