Tuesday, April 3, 2018

BEAUTY SCIENCE: Alpha Hydroxy Acids

You see this ingredient listed on so many skin care products - from peel treatments to night creams to cleansers.  But what is it?

Alpha-hydroxy acids
[al-fuh hahy-drok-see as-ids]  (Also known as AHA)
Fruit-derived acids used on skin to exfoliate, trap moisture and trigger collagen formation.

AHA's include citric acid from oranges and lemons, glycolic acid from sugarcane, lactic acid from milk, malic acid from apples, pyruvic acid from papayas, and tartaric acid from grapes — they’re a natural way to exfoliate dead skin layers.


AHAs work by gently dissolving the intercellular “glue” that makes old skin cells stick to the epidermis. The result: The outermost layer of your skin looks brighter and finer. These skin smoothers may also stimulate the production of skin-supporting collagen and elastin. Some dermatologists also believe that AHAs enhance the skin’s moisture-retaining ability so the tissue maintains its soft, padded firmness. The downside: AHAs make skin extra-sensitive to the sun. If you don’t wear a sunscreen, you may actually increase your risk of wrinkles! Also, AHAs sometimes cause redness and irritation.


Originally acid-based peels and exfoliation could make skin literally peel, the latest formulas will leave skin glowing, not flaking.  Why?  Newer formulas include lower strengths of combined acids, rather than one at a higher concentration.  This means they are potentially less irritating.

Acid based skin care is only as potent and effective as the free-acid compounds floating around inside it.  Too many, you skin stings and gets red.  Too few and nothing (absolutely nothing) happens.  Beauty chemists play with the pH - this adjusts the amount of free acid.  Ideal pH is between 3 and 4.  So...how do you know if the formula is correct if it is not listed on the package (and most are not).  If the acid is penetrating you're going to feel it...at least a tingle for a few seconds.  An effective product will leave your skin looking immediately refreshed.

Other benefits:

  • Acids are not abrasive, they dissolve the upper layer of the skin cells to trigger repair.  If you have sensitive skin, combine them with an amino acid which slows their penetration into the skin.
  • Cosmetic chemists agree - the smaller a molecule, the more easily it gets into the skin and glycolic is the smallest, which is why it is used most often in anti-aging products.  Glycolic regenerates collagen - it thickens the epidermis and evens skin tone.
  • They work well below the face...to help with a blotchy chest and neck.   TIP:  If you use a body wash with an Alpha-Hydroxy acid, apply it to your dry skin, wait 15 minutes, then get in the shower and rinse.  

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