I have a secret to share.
Even though I’m a beauty editor by trade, I’m pretty skittish when it comes to switching up my skin care routine. Yeah, I get it, it seems ironic considering that’s what pays the bills. *shrugs*
But for some reason last summer my skin started freaking out, which led me into Dr. Carlos Charles’ office at Dermi di Colore to get to the bottom of it. His first line of advice? Get back to basics, a.k.a. Cetaphil ($13) and drastically reduce the amount of products I use on my face (i.e. goodbye lengthy five-to-seven step Korean skin-care program).
It seemed weird breaking up with an array of expensive toners, cleansers, lotions, essences, etc., but if it would calm my epic breakouts and spotty skin, I was game. That was until I received a pitch from Glossier touting their new Solution exfoliating skin perfector ($24), which piqued my interest.
According to the press release, it was the brand’s “most powerful formula” yet, designed to “gently slough dead cells away through chemical exfoliation, breaking the cellular bonds gluing dull, dead cells to the healthy skin beneath.”
What does all that mean for you? A promise of cleared acne, blackheads, redness and smaller pores. I’d read enough of PR pitches over the years to give that line a semi-side eye, but figured, "hey, why not?" especially after reading an in-depth piece on The Cut about the benefits of PHAs.
"Hydroxy acids have been used in skin care for years," explains Dr. Charles. "They are excellent ingredients for gentle exfoliation and therefore can help treat acne and acne-associated hyperpigmentation in all skin types. In my office we use hydroxy acids in the form of chemical peels daily for our patients with skin of color, specifically for treating acne and hyperpigmentation."
"One must keep in mind that these ingredients must be used appropriately on darker skin tones because they can also lead to irritation and worsening of hyperpigmentation when used excessively or in high concentrations," he adds.
But this isn’t your average “toner” either, as it contains a mix of three acid actives: alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids and lesser known option, polyhydroxy acid. I had to ask a few derms of color—what makes this combo the holy grail of skin care—and why didn’t we hear about these before?
"PHAs are the second generation of AHAs. They were found to provide similar effects as AHAs with less sensitization and irritation than is found with AHAs," explains board certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon Dr. Michelle Henry.
"The most common PHA’s are gluconolactone and lactobionic acid. The lack of irritation makes PHA’s favorable for darker skin types. Irritation can lead to hyperpigmentation in dark skin which is the opposite of what we are trying to attain by using AHAs, BHAs and PHAs."
I faithfully used the formula (just pump on cotton pad and sweep on cleansed face) for four weeks straight and noticed subtle differences ranging from less oil production to major ones like minimal to non-existent breakouts. However, the game changer was how soft, smooth and even my complexion became. So much so that I just called it quits on using both powder and liquid foundation. My dark spots? Gone. Buh-bye!
"Polyhydroxy acids (PHA) are a special type of AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that strengthen skins barrier function and help fight the signs of aging without irritation," says dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon and director of Skin Specialty Dermatology Fran E. Cook-Bolden. "PHAs seem to be the answer for those with more sensitive skin and can be used by all skin types and by almost anyone. It's often a smart choice when embarking on a skin-care regime alone, especially if your skin tends to be on the sensitive side.
"Any irritation in skin of color can lead to dark spots and areas of discoloration, resulting in the often lengthy process of clearing the skin of discoloration from post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. They are great at hydrating, moisturizing and even protecting the skin. They also often contain antioxidants as part of the formulation."
To be very transparent, I never had “bad” skin to begin with (both images above are courtesy of Glossier!) but, since using it consistently, never have I received so many compliments on my skin. People have literally stopped me in the street to say that I’m glowing. It’s pretty safe to say that this new addition has changed my complexion for better.
For context, now the only products I find myself using on the daily include DHC Deep Cleansing Oil ($28) Glossier’s Priming Moisturizer ($22), Coola SPF 30 Dawn Patrol Makeup Primer ($42) and Vinter’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum ($185) and of course, the Solution skin perfector (morning and evening).
Typically when friends, family and even strangers ask me for recommendations I’m a bit hesitant, “I’m not a derm,” I shriek back fearful of being sued. Now, I’ll tell anyone who will listen—this is my new skin secret that I don’t want to keep so-secret.
The biggest question is: Would you try it for yourself? Let me know in the comments below!