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What Is Lipohydroxy Acid (LHA) And What Can It Do for Your Skin?

Lipohydroxy acid in skincare explained.
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When you finally know your AHAs from BHAs, a new breed of acid comes on the radar. And as the skintellectual that you are, you can’t spot an ingredient and not research it — you’re savvy like that. Lipohydroxy acid (LHA) may sound intimidating, but it might become your BFF in a bit. I bet you’re familiar with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acidlactic acidmalic acid, and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) as salicylic acid, but it’s time you meet someone new: lipohydroxy acid.

In today’s post, we will answer all questions surrounding lipohydroxy acid, what it does to your skin, and how effective and safe is.

What is lipo-hydroxy acid?

Lipo-hydroxy acid (or capryloyl salicylic acid) is a derivative of salicylic acid that greatly benefits the skin, especially oily and acne-prone types, with its renewing, exfoliating, and acne-treating attributes. Responsible for these benefits of lipo-hydroxy acid are its keratolytic and comedolytic properties. This brings us to the next question:

How does lipo-hydroxy acid work for acne?

You should use lipo-hydroxy acid for acne if you want a gentle ingredient to fight breakouts and balance sebum. LHA is known as a gentler alternative to salicylic acid due to its larger molecular size, which makes it work at the skin’s surface, unlike salicylic acid which penetrates the skin. In other words, lipo-hydroxy acid is more tolerable.

Now, how exactly this acid can tackle breakouts?

LHA gives delicate mild exfoliation by weakening the bonds between cells at the skin’s surface. While it penetrates less deeply than salicylic acid, LHA is more lipophilic, meaning it’s more able to dissolve in fats, oils, and lipids, making it ideal for acne-prone skins. It also works better at clearing excess sebum on the skin’s surface.[2] Additionally, lipo-hydroxy acid has astringent properties, aka it helps cleanse the skin, shrink pores, and dry out sebum. Yet, the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-comedogenic abilities make it even more effective against acne.[1]

Interestingly, it turns out the comedolytic properties of LHA are similar to benzoyl peroxide but gentler.[3] According to a study published by the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, “LHA and benzoyl peroxide decreased the number of inflammatory lesions from baseline to week 12 by 44% and 47% and noninflammatory lesions by 19% and 23%, respectively.” The study concluded that lipo-hydroxy acid could be an alternative to consider in treating mild to moderate acne for whoever is intolerant to benzoyl peroxide or has problematic skin.[4]

Comedolytic is a term describing an ingredient that inhibits the formation of comedones — blemishes that appear when sebum and dead cells are trapped in the pores.

But the main perks of lipo-hydroxy acid in skincare isn’t its acne-fighting ability but lies in its non-irritating, gentle mode of skin exfoliation.

Lipo-hydroxy acid for anti-aging 

Another of the skin benefits of lipo-hydroxy acid is its anti-aging effect. LHA is associated with skin thickening, and according to researchers, its cell renewal effects are equivalent to that of tretinoin.[5] Yes, LHA targets aging signs thanks to its ability to stimulate structural skin proteins and lipids (hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin). The keratolytic (exfoliant) properties of LHA allow it to lift dead skin cells from the skin’s surface for a smoother, even complexion. Indeed, this gives lipo-hydroxy acid the ability to reduce hyperpigmentation and fine lines look. 

What percentage of LHA is effective?

It’s been found that 5 to 10% of lipo-hydroxy acid is generally safe (and as effective as 10-50% glycolic acid) in diminishing pimples, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines appearance.[6]

Is LHA better than BHA?

Even if LHA is derived from BHA salicylic acid and both have similar purposes, LHA is more fat-soluble and gentler since it penetrates the skin slower. Hence, lipo-hydroxy acid is more suitable for those with sensitive skin who want to treat breakouts. However, compared to BHA, LHA also possesses anti-aging effects, similar to tretinoin, an active form of vitamin A, by stimulating cell renewal.

An important thing to consider when adding a new ingredient to your beauty routine is its pH. Lipo-hydroxy acid has a pH level similar to the skin’s natural pH, somewhere around 5, compared to salicylic acid, which has a 3 pH. In layman’s terms, it means LHA is less harsh on the skin’s barrier and makes it suitable even for sensitive skin types.

The best LHA products

Here are the best products infused with lipo-hydroxy acid that can give you radiant and smooth skin while battling breakouts without irritating or drying your complexion. Take a peep:

SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser 

SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel

SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel targets breakouts, congested pores, and uneven skin tone with a cocktail of exfoliants including lipo-hydroxy, glycolic, and salicylic acids. As one of the best LHA products, it gently eliminates the buildup of dead cells and sebum, purifying and refining skin for a radiant look.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment

If you have active breakouts this acne spot treatment could be your ticket to flawless skin. It battles blemishes and prevents pimples by reducing acne-causing bacteria with a combination of 5.5% benzoyl peroxide and lipo-hydroxy acid. It’s a best-seller product for good reasons.

Ole Henriksen Cold Plunge Pore Remedy Moisturizer

Ole Henriksen Cold Plunge Pore Remedy Moisturizer

Made with oily and combination skins in mind, Ole Henriksen Cold Plunge Pore Remedy Moisturizer works to boost hydration while unclogging pores and balancing sebum production. It’s lightweight and leaves skin feeling smooth thanks to salicylic acid and lipohydroxy acid.

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength 10% PHA Exfoliating Liquid

Peter Thomas Roth Pro Strength Exfoliating Clarifying Liquid

Or you can improve skin clarity and texture with this exfoliating liquid by Peter Thomas Roth — one of the very best lipo-hydroxy acid products. It boasts 10% gluconolactone (a polyhydroxy acid with skin-renewing power), with glycolic and salicylic acid to address dullness, blemishes, and rough texture.

StriVectin Advanced Exfoliating Face Pads

StriVectin Daily Reveal Exfoliating Pads

StriVectin Daily Reveal Exfoliating Pads puts your skin on steroids with a powerful blend of acids including AHAs, BHAs, PHAs, and LHA. There’s also tranexamic acid, a powerful skin brightener that works to reduce discolorations and even skin tone.

  1. Saint-Léger D, Lévêque JL, Verschoore M. The use of hydroxy acids on the skin: characteristics of C8-lipohydroxy acid. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Mar;6(1):59-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2007.00296.x. PMID: 17348998.
  2. Zeichner JA. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2016;9(11):40-43.
  3. Pierard GE, Rougier A. Nudging acne by topical beta-lipohydroxy acid (LHA), a new comedolytic agent. Eur J Dermatol. 2002 Jul-Aug;12(4):XLVII-XLVIII. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2003.10.079. PMID: 12120612.
  4. Bissonnette R, Bolduc C, Seité S, Nigen S, Provost N, Maari C, Rougier A. Randomized study comparing the efficacy and tolerance of a lipophillic hydroxy acid derivative of salicylic acid and 5% benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of facial acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2009 Mar;8(1):19-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2009.00418.x. PMID: 19250161.
  5. Pierard G, Lévèque JL, Rougier A, Kligman AM. Dermo-epidermal stimulation elicited by a salicylic acid derivative: a comparison with salicylic acid and all trans-retinoic acid. Eur J Dermatol. 2002 Jul-Aug;12(4):XLIV-XLVI. PMID: 12120610.
  6. Oresajo C, Yatskayer M, Hansenne I. Clinical tolerance and efficacy of capryloyl salicylic acid peel compared to a glycolic acid peel in subjects with fine lines/wrinkles and hyperpigmented skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Dec;7(4):259-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2008.00403.x. PMID: 19146601.
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