If you’re just getting into skin care, or if you’re generally attracted to brands with a “natural” or “organic” focus, the phrases “chemical exfoliation” and “alpha hydroxy acid” can carry some frightening (or at least unappealing) connotations. Don’t let those connotations put you off. Chemical exfoliation is often one of the best things you can do for your skin, and AHAs like the COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid are powerful weapons against skin issues like:
- Active acne
- Closed comedones (those pesky, persistent little pimple-like bumps that never seem to come to a head or go away)
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Dull skin tone
- Flaky, rough, or coarse skin texture
Before I got my hands on the COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid, I’d been using Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel for many months. I’m glad I made the switch. For my skin, the COSRX has rapidly proven much more effective, and my bank account enjoys the significantly lower cost. Let’s take a look at what COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid has to offer.
Purpose: COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is an alpha hydroxy acid chemical exfoliation product. It dissolves the bonds between dead skin cells to enable faster cell turnover, reducing acne and revealing brighter, clearer, smoother skin. The AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is also lightly hydrating.
Do not use if: You are currently suffering from overexfoliated skin (signs include increased roughness, scaliness, sensitivity, redness, or a shiny but dry appearance and texture) or are sensitive to glycolic acid or anything else in the ingredients list.
When and how to use: Once a day after cleansing, spread COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid over clean skin. It is best to use on skin that is as close to bare as possible, then wait for 30 minutes if possible before applying more products. If you also use a BHA product, apply after your BHA to take advantage of the BHA’s oil solubility. The order of acids in my skin care routine is pH adjuster (COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol), vitamin C serum (C21.5) with a 20-minute wait, BHA (COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid) with a 30-minute wait, then COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid with a 30-minute wait.
Many people, including me, consider the wait time following acids to be critical for achieving maximum results. Chemical exfoliants work best at a low pH, with the recommended range between 3 and about 4.5. Below 3, the product will be too acidic and may cause irritation or even chemical burns; above 4.5, and the product’s effectiveness drops significantly. It takes about 30 minutes for a product’s pH to neutralize and therefore for a chemical exfoliant to become ineffective. Applying another, higher-pH product immediately after a chemical exfoliant therefore arguably cuts short its effective time and limits the results you’ll see from the product. Unfortunately, there is little research specifically into this, so we’re just going by common sense here.
Finally, two cautions for those who are new to chemical exfoliation. If you’ve never used a correctly formulated AHA before or have sensitive skin, introduce products like the AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid slowly. Apply once a day every third day for a couple of weeks and then go to every other day for a couple of weeks before you move to daily use, and dial back the frequency if your skin begins to become irritated or overexfoliated. And always wear sunscreen! AHAs are photosensitizing, so unprotected UV exposure will lead to increased sun damage. It doesn’t matter whether you put your AHA on at night or in the morning, either, as the photosensitivity will persist for 7 days after application.
That may seem like a lot of cautions, but trust me–this product is worth it.
Ingredients list: Pyrus malus (apple) fruit water, butylene glycol, glycolic acid, water, niacinamide, sodium hydroxide, 1,2-hexanediol, panthenol, sodium hyaluronate, xanthan gum, ethyl hexanediol
Notable ingredients: As you can see, the ingredients list for the COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is short and sweet. Unlike many other products, this one doesn’t use water as its main ingredient. Instead, this product is apple water-based. As COSRX Marketing Team Assistant Manager Lee Hye-Young explained to me in our COSRX interview, apple water contains natural AHAs, boosting the exfoliating power of the 7% glycolic acid while maintaining the product’s relative gentleness on skin. The AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid also contains niacinamide, which by this time we all know is a brightening, barrier-strengthening, oil-controlling, anti-aging workhorse ingredient. Sodium hyaluronate, meanwhile, helps keep skin hydrated.
A CosDNA analysis of this product turns up only one warning: the common slip agent and penetration enhancer butylene glycol scores a 1 as a potential acne trigger. Butylene glycol is incredibly common in Asian skin care products; if you use other products containing it without issues, chances are good that it won’t trigger you in this one, either.
Since the COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is an AHA chemical exfoliating product, the first thing we need to talk about is its pH. Wishtrend’s listing for the product claims that it has a pH of 4, near the upper end of the effectiveness range. My own simple pH test puts it in that same range, though possibly a couple of decimal points lower.
The relatively high (though not deal-breakingly so) pH of the product may explain its gentleness in comparison to comparable AHA products.
COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is a thin, slippy, clear liquid. I prefer liquids over gels and lotions for my chemical exfoliants, as they absorb more thoroughly, creating less of a potential barrier to all the essences and serums and ampoules I apply afterwards. This product smooths easily over skin. Unfortunately, it smells like the A-Sol of the devil himself.
I’m not kidding. Holy crap. I talked a bit about the smell in my First Impressions look at this product. It really is strong. It’s acrid and chemically, with notes of scorched rubber. The smell doesn’t linger, however, and after a couple of weeks, you’ll go nose-blind to it, so don’t let that put you off. I also haven’t heard any complaints from Mr. Crazy Snail Lady about the smell, and he’s not shy about letting me know if something I’m using doesn’t smell good.
I’ve used this product every night for over a month now, and I’m here to tell you that it has done amazing things for my skin.
Overall, my skin is brighter and feels much softer. The COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid has dramatically smoothed and refined my skin’s texture as well–I’d even call my skin “silky” these days. The colony of tiny little closed comedone bumps I’ve always hosted on my forehead are vanishing like Roanoke villagers, and a few invisible clogs on my cheeks have purged out and gone–I get far fewer grits when I oil cleanse these days than I have before, because there are simply far fewer grits to get out. I haven’t experienced any irritation or overexfoliation from daily use, nor have I broken out from the product, besides a few tiny little purge bumps that disappeared within a day. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve become nose-blind to the odor of the stuff, so that’s no longer a problem for me at all.
Conclusion: Though I’m deducting a couple of decimal points for the truly heinous smell of the COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid, I still feel comfortable in awarding this product with Holy Grail status. It’s done everything I expect a daily use AHA to do. I’ve found it much more effective than the Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel, which never eradicated the bumps on my forehead or purged out the clogs hiding in my cheeks. And it’s much more affordable, another serious plus.
Where can I buy COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid?
Don’t go to Amazon for this product, at least not yet. The listings I’ve seen for it on Amazon are demanding exorbitantly high prices. I recommend purchasing COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid from:
2016 update: COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is now widely accessible online! You can find it in the following Fiddy-approved shops. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*).
What AHA product do you use? Are you happy with it?