A common misconception, even among many trained skin professionals, is that amino acids are similar to glycolic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid. This, however, is a false impression, as there are a number of key differences that distinguish these two common skin care ingredients. Here is an overview of these distinctions, as well as some of the many benefits of choosing gentle ingredients like amino acids over harsher alpha hydroxy acids.
Amino Acids vs. Alpha Hydroxy Acids
First, it’s crucial to understand what each of these ingredients actually is in order to fully understand the differences between them. Amino acids are the tiny molecules that combine to form short chains called peptides and long chains called proteins. In fact, a basic set of 20 amino acids is responsible for the formation of every protein within the human body, including the collagen and elastin contained in the skin.
In addition to their role in protein synthesis, different combinations of amino acids can provide various skin health and beauty benefits, including offering protection against free radicals, promoting healthy skin hydration and barrier function, improving the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and accelerating the wound healing process .
Because they are already abundant throughout your body and skin composition, amino acids are some of the gentlest and safest skin care ingredients currently available.
By contrast, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and various others, are primarily used in skin care as moderate exfoliants. This means that they help to remove the outer layer of dead skin cells so that the newer underlying layer can more quickly shine through. This is why AHAs like glycolic acid are often used in chemical peels in an attempt to refresh the skin’s appearance. The problem, however, is that AHAs are known to cause various skin concerns, including burning, irritation, redness, swelling, peeling, itching, discoloration, and increased sensitivity to the sun .
The Benefits of Amino Acids in Skin Care
Although many medical spas and skin care lines use glycolic acid and other AHAs in an attempt to even and clear the skin, this approach is not always the best method to treat a number of skin concerns, especially for those with sensitive or easily irritated skin. Instead, choose topical skin care products that contain a unique combination of amino acids and peptide blends to help significantly improve your skin’s appearance without causing unnecessary irritation. Thus, here are just some of the many added benefits of using amino acids in your everyday skin care routine over harsher ingredients like glycolic acid:
- The pH of amino acids is similar to that of water, making them gentle enough to be used on virtually all skin types.
- Topical amino acids have been proven to be some of the safest ingredients in skin care .
- Amino acids can be a gentle alternative to harsher exfoliating ingredients, as they have been shown to increase the rate of cell turnover to naturally and safely exfoliate the skin.
- Amino acids can improve a wide range of skin concerns, including dry, flaky conditions like eczema and psoriasis, skin discoloration, lines and wrinkles, minor cuts and scrapes, razor burn, and sunburn.
The Bottom Line
Before applying any product to your skin, it’s well worth taking a little extra time to do some research on each of the ingredients contained in the formula. This even applies to professional treatment options like chemical peels, which can contain any number of chemical solutions, including glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, trichloroacetic acid, and resorcinol.
In most cases, choosing a gentler formula that contains amino acids instead of glycolic acid and other AHAs will be more beneficial in the long run and your skin will experience much less irritation and adverse effects.
 U.S. FDA