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 acid, lactic acid, malic 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 it 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 is its keratolytic and comedolytic properties. This brings us to the next question:
Lipo-hydroxy acid for acne
You should use lipo-hydroxy acid for acne if you want a gentle ingredient to fight breakouts and diminish excess 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 that penetrates the skin. This makes it more tolerable by the skin. 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. But its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-comedogenic properties make it even more effective against acne.
The fact that LHA has an added fatty chain makes it lipophilic (fat-dissolving) — meaning it works better at clearing excess sebum on the skin’s surface. Additionally, lipo-hydroxy acid has astringent properties, aka it helps cleanse the skin, shrink pores, and dry out sebum.
The main perk of lipo-hydroxy acid lies in its non-irritating, gentle mode of skin exfoliation.
The comedolytic properties of LHA have been shown in clinical studies, and it has been demonstrated that its effects are similar to benzoyl peroxide but gentler. A study published by the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology evaluated the impact of LHA compared to benzoyl peroxide, another great acne-fighter. For 12 weeks, eighty subjects with moderate acne were applied either LHA twice a day or benzoyl peroxide once daily.
“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 option to consider in treating mild to moderate acne for whoever is intolerant to benzoyl peroxide.
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.
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 dermal stimulatory effects are equivalent to that of tretinoin. Yes, LHA targets aging signs thanks to its ability to stimulate structural skin proteins and lipids (hyaluronic acid, collagen, and elastin). Briefly, the conclusion states that “this compound should be listed among topical products boosting the skin tissues affected by aging.”
Moreover, LHA has been found to increase cell renewal, researchers pointing that its similarity to tretinoin indicates people can use it for aging signs, such as elasticity and firmness loss, and dark spots. 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Zeichner JA. The Use of Lipohydroxy Acid in Skin Care and Acne Treatment. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2016;9(11):40-43.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.