When what you want is smooth, even and dewy skin, but what you see in your mirror after a long winter is a dull and lacklustre reflection.  You need to be introduced to alpha hydroxy acids. 

Acids on my skin? That can’t be good. Before you go screaming to the hills, hear me out. Let’s break through some beauty jargon faster than glycolic acid can exfoliate your skin.

The Stratum Corneum: AKA the top layer of the skin. It may be made up of dead cells called corneocytes but it is not ‘corny’ to look after our skin’s dearly departed. When our skin is dry, the corneocytes accumulate, so skin becomes flaky instead of peeling off nicely, and the stratum corneum gets disorganized and full of cracks instead of being tightly packed.

Desquamation: The process where the skin sheds thousands of cells every minute. 

Cell turnover time: The skin is made up of several layer and cells are born in the lower levels and migrate from the bottom to the top. This migration period, the duration of a skin cell’s journey from the bottom layer to the top is called the “transit time” or “turnover time.” This is the key process to understand. The faster our cell turnover time, the newer and fresher our skin looks.

As we age, this turnover process gets sluggish.

Children skin cells – 2 weeks

Adult skin cells – 4-6 weeks.

>60 year old skin cells: 8 weeks.

Exfoliation: The speeding up of this skin cell shedding process.

The skin ‘glow’: No explanation necessary.

So now we can decode the role of alpha hydroxy acids in a nutshell: They exfoliate the skin allowing desquamation of the dead stratum corneum cells and speed up our cell turnover time. Resulting in a more frequent production of youthful, vibrant skin cells. Hello ‘glow’.

In a little more detail, the grand journey of skin cells from bottom to top is triggered by the shedding of cells at the skin surface. There are sensors underneath that can detect that the cells are “missing”. Millions of these cells, which can be thought of as tiles on a roof, get blown off the skin’s surface every day and as they do signals are sent to the lower layers that basically report “Hey! Tiles are falling off we need to up the production of new ones.” And so kickstarts new skin cell manufacture.

Why should you exfoliate your skin?

Alpha hydroxy acids weaken the ‘cellular glue’ making the dead cells stick together and so accelerate this exfoliation process. This can shorten the 8 week turnover of a 60-year-old’s skin cells to the 4-6 week transit time of a much younger person. 

And that is not the only benefit. They also work at a deeper level to stimulate collagen production and target acne and pigmentation. If that sounds good, read on to understand which alpha hydroxy acid could be the right one for you.

Glycolic acid cheat sheet

Derived from: sugarcane

Its USP: Size matters. As the smallest hydroxyl acid molecule, glycolic acid can penetrate the skin the deepest and the fastest which means that it has the most dramatic results particularly on wrinkles.

Best for: Acne, pigmentation and mature skin.

The bottom line: This can be the most ‘active’ of the alpha hydoxys which also means more irritation. Sensitive skins should start slowly and increase the frequency as tolerated.

Lactic acid cheat sheet:

Derived from: Sour milk.

Its USP:  Lactic acid is a gentle, moisturizing alpha hydroxy acid. It is actually one of our skin’s Natural Moisturising Factors (NMF). It not only exfoliates but also increases hydration, improving barrier function and resistance to dryness and flakiness. It helps our skin to make more ceramides.

Best for: Sensitive skin types.

The bottom line: Cleopatra was on to something when it came to bathing in milk!

Mandelic acid cheat sheet:

Derived from: Bitter almonds.

Its USP: It is antibacterial making it effective for acne in particular. It can lighten pigmentation and brighten the skin.

Best for: Acne prone skin.

The bottom line: As the biggest alpha hydroxy acid, it is also a well tolerated one. It is a good choice for darker skin types as it carries less risk of postinflammatory pigmentation.

So now that you are armed with some power alpha hydroxy acids, listen up for some cardinal rules.

  • Alpha hydrox acids make you more sensitive to the sun so double up on sunscreen. Exfoliate. SPF. Repeat.
  • Don’t be alarmed if you feel stinging or burning on application. This is normal.
  • If you have rosacea, approach alpha hydroxy acids with caution. They may not be for you.
  • Start low and slow. Refreshed, glowing skin is good. Peeling, red and irritated skin is not.
  • Over-exfoliation can make your skin worse. Remember that we quite like (and need) our skin barrier.

Used responsibly, alpha hydroxy acids can give your skin a transformation worthy of an (Egyptian) queen. So go forth and peel your skin worries away.

Exfoliation best practices


Polish + Glow

Cleanse your skin while indulging in a clarifying, hydrating and resurfacing mask – leaving your skin silky smooth, illuminated and rejuvenated – all while brushing your teeth! 

Cleanse your skin while indulging in a clarifying, hydrating and resurfacing mask – leaving your skin silky smooth, illuminated and rejuvenated – all while brushing your teeth! 


This cleanser which multitasks as a mask is a workhorse, drawing dirt, excess oil, make-up, pollution and toxins out of the pores while providing a gentle chemical exfoliation.

All while quenching the skin with enviable glow-inducing hydration. 

Cleopatra’s famed luxurious milk baths, which utilized the power of lactic acid to reveal baby-soft skin, have been combined with next generation clay extracts and nourishing skin barrier-loving oils to give you the ultimate softening mask. It also serves as the perfect primer for optimal absorption of any actives to follow.

Potentiate your in-office procedures with this skincare hack and give your skin a red-carpet treatment in your own home.

TIP: Apply prior to brushing teeth – once you’re done with brushing your teeth, the two minutes will be up!

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