May 30, 2016

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

font size


What other names is Alpha Hydroxy Acids known by?

Acide 2-hydroxypropionique (Acide Lactique), Acide Alpha-Hydroxyéthanoïque, Acide Citrique, Acide de Pomme, Acide Dihydroxysuccinique (Acide Tartrique), Acide Glycolique, Acide Hydroxyacétique (Acide Glycolique), Acide Hydroxycaprylique, Acide Hydroxypropionique, Acide Hydroxysuccinique, Acide Lactique, Acide Malique, Acides Alpha-Hydroxylés, Acidos Alfa-Hydroxi, AHA, Alpha Hydroxy Acides, Alpha-Hydroxyethanoic Acid, Apple Acid, Citric Acid, Dihydroxysuccinic Acid (Tartaric Acid), Gluconolactone, Glycolic Acid, Hydroxyacetic Acid (Glycolic Acid), Hydroxycaprylic Acid, Hydroxypropionic Acid, Hydroxysuccinic Acid, Lactic Acid, Malic Acid, Mixed Fruit Acid, Monohydroxysuccinic Acid (Malic Acid), 2-hydroxypropionic acid (Lactic Acid).

What is Alpha Hydroxy Acids?

Alpha hydroxy acids are a group of natural acids found in foods. Alpha hydroxy acids include citric acid (found in citrus fruits), glycolic acid (found in sugar cane), lactic acid (found in sour milk), malic acid (found in apples), tartaric acid (found in grapes), and others.

Some people take malic acid by mouth with magnesium for treating pain and tenderness associated with fibromyalgia.

Various alpha hydroxy acids are applied to the skin (used topically) for moisturizing and removing dead skin cells, for treating acne and improving the appearance of acne scars, for improving the appearance of photo-aged skin, and firming and smoothing skin.

Alpha hydroxy acids are also used topically to treat extremely dry skin (xerosis), an inherited disease marked by dry, scaly skin (ichthyosis), and a condition that causes darkening of the skin (melasma). When this condition develops in pregnant women, it is sometimes called "the mask of pregnancy."

Not all cosmetics that contain alpha hydroxy acid have the concentration information on the label. For safety's sake, it's best to use products that identify the concentration of active ingredients.

Is Alpha Hydroxy Acids effective?

When applied directly to the skin as a lotion or cream, alpha hydroxy acids can help treat sun-damaged skin and dry skin. But the alpha-hydroxy skin peels do not seem to work for this use.

There is some evidence that a alpha hydroxy acids lotion or cream might help improve acne when applied to the skin. Although some people try alpha hydroxy acids as a skin peel to treat sun-damaged skin, it does not seem to be effective for this use

There is also some evidence that taking one alpha-hydroxy acid called malic acid with magnesium hydroxide by mouth might help reduce pain and tenderness related to fibromyalgia.

Likely Effective for...

  • Treating sun damage when applied to the skin in a cream or lotion, but alpha hydroxy skin peels do not seem to work for this use.
  • Treating dry skin when applied to the skin in a cream or lotion.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Acne when applied to the skin in a cream or lotion.
  • Acne scars when applied to the skin in a facial peel or lotion. Applying glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid, as a facial peel or lotion seems to improve the appearance of acne scars. Applying 70% glycolic acid in a series of peels seems to work better than using 15% glycolic acid lotion daily. However, 15% glycolic acid lotion seems to be moderately effective in people who cannot tolerate facial peels.
  • Reducing pain and tenderness caused by fibromyalgia when a specific alpha hydroxy acid, called malic acid, is used in combination with magnesium.
  • Reducing the pigmentation associated with a skin disorder called melasma. Applying 10% glycolic acid as a lotion for 2 weeks followed by a facial peeling program using 50% glycolic acid every month for 3 consecutive months seems to reduce unwanted skin coloration in people with two of the three types of melasma, epidermal-type and mixed-type melasma. However, glycolic acid facial peels don't seem to work for the third type of melasma, dermal-type melasma.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Treating an inherited skin disorder that causes dry, scaly skin (ichthyosis).
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate alpha hydroxy acids for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).


Therapeutic Research Faculty copyright

Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.


Women's Health

Find out what women really need.