20 July 2012

Science Fridays: Beta Hydroxy Acid





WHAT IS IT?


A class of organic acids that has beauty applications.  The most commonly encountered of these is Salicylic Acid (Sal-E-sill-ick Acid).  In organic chemistry terms, a BHA has the following defining chemical characteristics: A Carboxylic Acid group and a hydroxyl group seperated by two carbons.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

I'm so glad you asked!


My poorly edited picture - but it illustrates my point.  I could really bore you with how this works, but then I'd have to kill you, that's totally insider knowledge.  Kidding!

WHAT DOES IT DO?

For the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on salicylic acid, because it is really the most commonly encountered BHA of them all.  Salicylic Acid is the primary ingredient in over-the-counter acne treatment products because it acts as a chemical exfoliant.  Meaning it causes skin cells that normal clog pores and contribute to acne, to slough off - thereby clearing your pores and reducing the places bacteria has to grow and cause acne.  It also helps to constrict the size of the pore and stimulates cellular turnover revealing brighter, clearer skin.  It also is the active form of aspirin, and aspirin tablets can because it acts as anti-inflammatory. (Note: This is probably why your grandma told you to crush an aspirin tablet and apply it to your face to get a particularly volcanoe-like blemish to go away).

WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?

It is found naturally in the bark of the Willow tree, and way back when, and I mean way back when like Ancient Rome, it was used to treat a variety of medical maladies like aches, pains and fevers.  But since it was Ancient Rome, I don't think this actually extended your longevity.  Now, it's probably chemically synthesized in bulk rather than extracted from bark.  I mean, Bayer couldn't possibly have a top secret Willow tree farm that they exclusively cull willow bark from to support the intense demand for salicylic acid the world needs to be pimple and pain free.... could they?  (It's a conspiracy!)
WHAT CAN I BUY IT IN?

The strongest concentration I've seen a BHA at the drugstore is 2%, and that is in things like Acne facial cleansers, Oxy Clean Pads and Clean & Clear Acne Treatment gel.  I'm certain a dermatologist can prescribe stronger prescriptions, or you can crush aspirin into your face cleanser or moisturizer for a greater concentration.  This, however, is not recommended because too much salicylic acid can result in chemical burns on the skin by extreme exfoliation.

HOW DO I USE IT?

Generally all of the products come with directions for use on the packaging, and you should absolutely follow them, they are there for your ease of use.  However, I have some post use suggestions, since this is an exfoliator, you want to be kind to your skin after use.  Meaning moisturizer after use and sunscreen for protection, because you're exposing newer and fresher skin faster.  Those skin cells aren't as hardy or problematic as the older skin, so they need to be babied.  You'll thank yourself for it sooner - when you have a nice, supple looking, fresh skin, and later, when the sunscreen has slowed the aging process on your face and your 40 but looking like a popping fresh 30.  Just saying.

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