Ep 168 – Alternative Acids: Thinking beyond the Basics

esthetician applies a chemical peel

AHAs and BHAs, both amazing skin exfoliants, offer a lot of options, like glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids. But these are just the basics, and in the world of cell turnover, there is so much more to choose from. In this episode of ASCP Esty Talk, Maggie and Ella discuss what makes an acid an AHA and a BHA, plus they explore some not-so-basic options.

ASCP Esty Talk with Maggie Staszcuk and Ella Cressman

Produced by Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) for licensed estheticians, ASCP Esty Talk is a weekly podcast hosted by Maggie Staszcuk and Ella Cressman. We see your passion, innovation, and hard work and are here to support you by providing a platform for networking, advocacy, camaraderie, and education. We aim to inspire you to ask the right questions, find your motivation, and give you the courage to have the professional skin care career you desire.


About Ella Cressman:

Ella Cressman is a licensed esthetician, certified organic formulator, business owner, and absolute ingredient junkie! As an educator, she enjoys empowering other estheticians and industry professionals to understand skin care from an ingredient standpoint rather than a product-specific view.

She has spent many hours researching ingredients, understanding how and where they are sourced, as well as phytochemistry, histological access, and complementary compounds for intentional skin benefits. In addition to running a skin care practice, Cressman founded a comprehensive consulting group, the HHP Collective, and has consulted for several skin care lines, including several successful CBD brands.

Connect with Ella Cressman:

Website: www.ellacress.com

Website: www.hhpcollective.com


About Maggie Staszcuk:

Maggie has been a licensed esthetician since 2006 and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Stephens College. She has worked in the spa and med-spa industry and served as an esthetics instructor and a director of education for one of the largest schools in Colorado before coming to ASCP as the Advanced Modality Specialist. 

Connect with Maggie Staszcuk:

P 800.789.0411 EXT 1636

MStaszcuk@ascpskincare.com or AMI@ascpskincare.com


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About Elleebana:

Elleebana continues to push the treatment evolution envelope and influence the global market. Company Director, Otto Mitter is a qualified Cosmetic Chemist of the Institute of Personal Care Science and award-winning global & lash brow educator. Highly passionate about product ingredients, research and development and ongoing education, Otto is the innovator for the world famous Elleebana One Shot Lash Lift system, Elleeplex ReGEN and Elleebana Brow Henna, as well as Co-Producer of the Belmacil Lash & Brow Tinting System. Otto continues to extend the boundaries of product development within the world of beauty and in collaboration with other world leaders in the industry.

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About Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP):

Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) is the nation’s largest association for skin care professionals and your ONLY all-inclusive source for professional liability insurance, education, community, and career support. For estheticians at every stage of the journey, ASCP is your essential partner. Get in touch with us today if you have any questions or would like to join and become an ASCP member.

Connect with ASCP:

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Email: getconnected@ascpskincare.com

Phone: 800-789-0411

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0:00:45.7 Maggie Staszcuk: Hello and welcome to ASCP's Esty Talk. I'm your co-host, Maggie Staszcuk, and ASCP's Education Program Manager. 


0:00:52.6 Ella Cressman: And I am Ella Cressman a licensed aesthetician, certified organic formulater, ingredient junkie and content contributor for Associated Skin Care Professionals. And you may notice I sound a little different. Can you hear me okay Maggie?  


0:01:05.2 MS: Hear you loud and clear, Ella. 


0:01:06.8 EC: Okay, great. Well, I'm actually coming to you guys remotely rather than from the studio because I had my own whoopsy doozy. I was walking my dog and slipped and fell and broke my leg, and now I have some new hardware. So I'm at home healing and still thinking of all of the listeners and these amazing podcasts we're going to putting out, so in the next couple of weeks I might sound a little different but still great content. Hi, Maggie I know you're gonna miss me there in the studio, so I thought about sending you a cardboard cut out for our podcast ____ days. What do you think?  


0:01:38.8 MS: Love it, Ella. And then we are gonna miss you. 


0:01:42.4 EC: Soon enough I'll be back. 


0:01:43.3 MS: Soon enough. Yeah, so today we're talking about acids. And personally, when I hear about AHAs and BHAs, automatically, my mind's going to chemical peels. But obviously these ingredients are also found in topical products too. So let's first start, what makes an acid an AHA or a BHA? So simply put, AHAs are considered water-soluble, BHAs are considered oil-soluble, but there's also some science behind that too. They are organic compounds with the core element being a carbon atom. And they're bonded to oxygen and hydrogen, otherwise known as a hydroxyl group, and this bond is occurring in either the first position, alpha or second position, beta. 


0:02:25.9 EC: And you know another thing to think about with both alpha and beta hydroxy acids? Is they're a part of a family known as carboxylic acids, and it's really fun to say, especially as you're touting your knowledge and information to your client's, carboxylic acids, and that's all because of the hydroxy groups that are connected. The molecular shape. This is one of my favourite subjects. 


0:02:47.8 MS: I agree, and I think a lot of aestheticians out there probably are not thinking about, "Why is it called alpha-hydroxy acid or beta-hydroxy acid?" And in school, you're learning just the basics. So for instance, glycolic, salicylic. So what are these acids good for?  


0:03:04.2 EC: I think something else to consider too is glycolic, salicylic and even TCA, they're all cousins. So what they're doing in the skin is they're sending a signal to release a bond. And the molecular size, as you mentioned, where it's positioned, alpha or beta, is just as important as sometimes the molecular length. So carbon chain-wise in those hydroxys. This is especially important when we're talking about glycolic, lactic mandelic. Those difference and when do we choose which or how do we know what kind of histological effect they're going to have, we learn that in school too, depends on their molecular size. So glycolic being small, two carbon chain, it's gonna penetrate deeper than lactic, it is a three carbon chain. It's a slight difference, but when you're looking at depth, as you mentioned in chemical peeling, but also for home care, what do you want to have happen in the skin? Those are important considerations. 


0:03:56.7 MS: Yeah, and you said something key there for me, which was who are they good for? And we talked in a prior podcast about Fitzpatrick, but Fitzpatrick plays a key role here in determining what acids you're gonna use on what client, and part of that too is also prepping the client depending on their Fitzpatrick before then going into chemical peeling. And some of that doesn't come into play when you're just using it for topical products, but I think it's interesting. You may use a topical that has say, glycolic acid to prep a client to then receive that chemical peel. So listen to that prior podcast. There's good information there on not just Fitzpatrick, but other ways to... What's the word?  


0:04:34.1 EC: Other ways to analyse. I think that's important consideration too, because we learn too some of this other basic and you know, we've talked about this extensively of in the box. Acne is oily, so you must use beta. That's a really common home care ingredient, salicylic acid, but when you take a step back and understand the size, the shape of the ones we've just talked about, of any other that we're gonna discuss, what do you want to have happen? Because sometimes looking at a client with acne, for example, and they're just really inflamed, I had somebody send me a picture this morning, "What's going on with this person? They're super inflamed and what are they using at home? A lot of oil stripping. Oh, well, there. That could be it." Versus using it in your treatment room, where you wanna break through some of that oil. So it's important. Do we wanna break through oil, do we wanna break through skin cell build up? What do you want to have happen?  


0:05:27.3 MS: Yeah, totally, and I think application plays a role there too. I don't know if you learned the same process that I learned, which was very basic. Degrease the skin, then burn it. And I think acids have really come a long way in terms of application, and there are some people that apply with a brush, there's some people that apply with a round swab, but application, generally speaking, was always the same. Remove the fat from the skin so that acid can penetrate regardless if it's something like a glycolic with a really small molecular size versus lactic, for instance. And we're gonna get into this a little bit more, but there's been a lot of changes in terms of how we're exfoliating the skin, even when it comes to chemical peeling. 


0:06:12.1 EC: I know this subject is... We'll just say Maggie-fied. 'Cause when we're... You just said something that made me think about home care and how we're exfoliating the skin, because outside of the basics, what we have available at home has changed, and I think it's 2022 and 2023 training away from some of these, let's call them aggressive or Type A. Type A acids that are gonna get in and really burn, as you said, turn things over. What happened during... And I always hate saying that. What happened during pandemic, 'cause people were like, "Let's do it. We're at home. It's two-day Prime delivery, and that's just the most fun we can have. Let's order a peel or let's order products that we can do at home." That's just... I think they were bored. And there was an over-exfoliation. Kind of like there was from 1990s until early 2000s. But now there's a move away from some of those for home care, and I know that you, Maggie are a big fan of that. 


0:07:10.2 MS: Yeah, I am a big fan of that. I prefer to treat the skin a little bit more gently, I think there's way too much exfoliation that's been happening in the industry. But that doesn't mean you're not using acids. I think there's just the proper way to use acids, right? And some of that is... It's not the aestheticians, I think it's the consumer is just having a misunderstanding or feeling like, "If you're not feeling like a snake, you're not getting the benefit." 


0:07:33.2 EC: I hate that philosophy. Like, "But I wanna peel." But why? "Because I want a peel peel. Is it gonna make me peel?" Why do you need to peel? That's one of my hot buttons. 


0:07:44.1 MS: Yeah, yeah, same. So there's more to acids than just the basics. One of the categories that we're gonna talk about is poly-hydroxy acids. And that's not new, but it may be new to you, and we're seeing that come out onto the market again, so it's as efficient as AHAs, but considered less of a downside, so to speak. It has antioxidant properties, it's considered not photosensitising, however, I say that with some caution. It's considered suitable for sensitive skin, considered moisturizing, non-irritating, and it's often found in topical products, like all of these acids can be. 


0:08:21.2 EC: Going back to what we talked about earlier, is it's the size and shape. These are a different shape than alpha or beta in the... The hydrogen's in a different spot. 


0:08:32.4 MS: Hold that thought. We'll be right back. 


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0:10:00.1 MS: Okay, here we go. Let's get back to the podcast. Next acid is lactobionic acid. This was a new one for me. It is considered a PHA or poly-hydroxy acid and it is an oxidised form of lactose. So some of those same properties that you're finding with lactic acid it's considered brightening, it's a little bit more gentle, it exfoliates. One thing that I found interesting is that this is increasing epidermal thickness. So it's kind of the opposite of what we find and things like retinals for instance, where that is minimising the epidermis, but increasing the dermis. 


0:10:35.7 EC: Signaling, let's get it together. Let's get a strong foundation. And can we just say how effective it sounds. Lactobionic acid. It sounds very intimidating. 


0:10:45.8 MS: It does. So new age ____. 


0:10:48.3 EC: Yeah. Okay, yes, do it. I want it in my skincare. 


0:10:51.3 MS: Right?  


0:10:52.0 EC: One of my favourite poly-hydroxy acids is gluconolactone, and I'm gonna be honest, the reason that I love this one so much is because I like to say it. I feel very fancy when I say it. Sometimes you'll see it on an ingredient deck as gluconic acid and it come... It naturally occurs in fruit, honey, and wine. And I just wanted to stay... When we're looking at wine, for example, we talked about upcycling ingredients and such, but we have to acknowledge that some of these natural sources, they are full of different components, and this is a great example of that. Gluconolactone exfoliates, it hydrates, its antimicrobial, and it works to improve the texture and tone of skin without as... The same with lactobionic, without the consequence of advanced irritating or extra peeling. So it's initiating that normal cadence of skin renewal, but not necessarily initiating the peeling consequence. 


0:11:51.3 MS: Yeah, and that's what I love about these newer assets on the market, is that you're getting the benefit, but without that irritation at the surface, without the flaking and the peeling. 


0:12:02.3 EC: Absolutely. 


0:12:04.7 MS: Another acid that we're seeing, or I should say, it's been around for a long time, it was developed in the '80s, but it's having a resurgence, and this is lipo-hydroxy acid, it's a BHA. It's a derivative of salicylic acid, but it's considered more lipophilic. And this was actually developed in the 80s by L'Oreal. So you're gonna find this in their products. It has a very slow penetration, which is indicative of like you've been talking about, Ella, the size and shape of the molecule, and the idea behind this acid is that it is resulting in individual cell by cell exfoliation, I think that's really interesting. 


0:12:41.8 EC: Yeah, I like that part too. And I think that slow and steady wins the race is not an untrue, but I also think about a crackpot now that it's able to have some... Turn out some really good results. So not... We are so in a hurry, right? We've lived in such a hurry for so long I think now, taking a slower approach is proving to be very beneficial. And I like that. I think one thing about BHA is why I love lipo-hydroxy acid specifically, this one, even though it's L'Oreal proprietary, is we say BHAs, but we really mainly talk about salicylic, but there's more. There are more BHAs than just salicylic in lipo-hydroxy acid. 


0:13:22.9 EC: And one of my favourite or most... I didn't say favourite because it's new and it's very exciting is acetic acid, and that is another carboxylic acid. And it is a cousin to all the alpha-hydroxy, it's a cousin to the beta-hydroxy acid, it's a cousin to the poly-hydroxy acids and it's also a cousin to trichloroacetic acid. So you hear that... So it's TCA minus the three chlorine molecules. And the way that that behaves in the skin is so cool. What it does, how it works, watching the skin respond to it in a professional setting is really cool. It's actually found in vinegar, and so it has a very, yeah, a signature scent. It's not vinegar, but it's part of vinegar. Part of the formula, and you can smell it for sure, but man, is it pretty, what it does in the skin. It's brightening, it's hydrating, it's refining, and it's one of my new favourite carboxylic acids. 


0:14:22.6 MS: That's awesome. And I wonder, Ella, is it also... Does it have any kind of antimicrobial property being that it's derivative of vinegar?  


0:14:31.4 EC: Yeah, anti-microbial and very anti-bacterial. And when you watch it, it looks interesting because we look... We talked earlier in the podcast about betas just gonna be for acne or alphas just for aging or lactic is hydrating and brightening. Even though that's not true. You can use them for different conditions. I love acetic because it's for all of that, but you visually can see it change, and so for acne specifically, man is it pretty. You can see changes in comedones, like the compacted filaments or when they get to that pustular part because of the antimicrobial part. Yeah, it's a really cool acid. I love it. 


0:15:11.0 MS: That's awesome. Now, listeners, we wanna hear from you. Is there something new? An alternative acid perhaps you're using or seen in the treatment room? Share your thoughts with us on social media by commenting on our Instagram or Facebook posts or by emailing and getconnected@ascpskincare.com


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