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Meet the next-gen skincare ingredients

Polyglutamic and polyhydroxy acids—a new wave of acids you need to know for better skin

PGA, or polyglutamic acid, is trending because it moisturizes the skin and gives it the coveted glass glow, say experts.
PGA, or polyglutamic acid, is trending because it moisturizes the skin and gives it the coveted glass glow, say experts. (Unsplash)

Be it skincare or makeup, when it comes to hydration, hyaluronic acid (HA) has now become the go-to ingredient to look for in a formulation on the label. Because of its gentle nature that suits all kinds of skin types, especially sensitive, HA is has emerged as a skincare favourite.

Now, what if we told you there’s another ingredient that can hold up to four times more moisture than HA? That’s polyglutamic acid (PGA) for you. “PGA is a type of amino acid that is produced by bacterial fermentation in fermented soya beans. It is water-soluble, non-toxic, bio-degradable, non-immunogenic and can serve multiple benefits to the skin,” says Rinky Kapoor, consultant dermatologist, cosmetic dermatologist and dermato-surgeon, The Esthetic Clinics. It binds water to the skin similar to HA, so if your skin is dehydrated and you want suppleness, your wrinkles to look less prominent, a high moisture-binding ingredient such as PGA is a must, says Kiran Sethi, owner and founder, Isya Aesthetics. “It prohibits the destruction of HA by inhibiting the action of hyaluronidase. So it is anti-ageing. No real side effects have been reported, although there is always a risk of idiopathic irritation or allergy. If you are allergic to soybeans, you cannot use them,” says Dr Sethi. She adds that though we can't say it is better than HA, in the lab, it does bind more water. However, there are way more studies on HA.

“PGA is a trending ingredient because it moisturizes the skin and gives it the coveted glass glow. It replenishes cell moisture, enhances skin elasticity and delays the signs of ageing, increases the production of natural moisturizing acids and helps seal in other skincare products,” says Dr Kapoor. The difference, she says, is that while HA seeps in the deep layers of the skin, PGA sits on the top of the skin and keeps the moisture locked in. “I would definitely add PGA into my skincare routine, but I would still keep HA in it as well. I would use PGA once a day and an HA product once a day and make sure I use a heavy moisturiser on top to bind the water that is attracted to the PGA and HA in the skin so it doesn't leak out. Keep a barrier enhancing moisturiser on top of that super strong humectant,” says Dr Sethi.

Peeling good

Gone are the days when abrasive apricot scrubs were our only options for exfoliation. Alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) have now become the stars of the exfoliating world for those looking to opt for gentle at-home peels. However, stronger formulations (such as glycolic acid) and wrong usage can sometimes irritate sensitive skin as AHAs and BHAs penetrate the deeper layers of the skin. A good alternative, especially if you have dry, easily irritated skin are PHAs or polyhydroxy acids, which are good for all skin types. “PHAs are gentler than AHAs and BHAs and therefore they don’t go very deep in the skin but only work on the outer layer. They are chemical exfoliants that gently slough the top layer of the skin and also act as a humectant that binds the moisture to the skin,” says Dr Kapoor. They are gentle enough to safely incorporate into your existing skincare routine in the form of serums, toner, mask, moisturizer and creams. Check the product label for gluconolactone, lactobionic acid or galactose, advices Dr Kapoor. You can start by using them three times a week and observe the difference in your skin. Regular use of PHAs will give a very soft, natural glow over time. “They can also be combined with other acids and skincare ingredients such as retinoids and hydroquinone to treat acne and improve skin pigmentation. Dermatologists also use PHAs after laser and microdermabrasion treatments,” says Dr Kapoor. She adds that it can also benefit those who are suffering from rosacea and eczema. It reduces pigmentation, which is a common concern on Indian skin, unclogs the pores, reduces the appearance of fine lines, reduces inflammation and protects the skin from free radicals, and it fights glycation and helps delay the sugar face. “Nearly everyone can use it, except for those who spend a lot of time in the sun, because it makes you sensitive to the sun. It won't be as effective as glycolic acid.However, you can use it regularly, with minimal risks, so it's ideal for dry, sensitive skin. Definitely keep it in your routine if you can't handle glycolic acid. If you are acne-prone, look for peel pads with combos of PHAs and salicylic acid,” recommends Dr Sethi.

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