AHA is a group of natural acids found in food items. It includes citric acid (found in citrus fruits such as oranges), glycolic acid (found in sugarcane), lactic acid (found in sour milk and tomato juice), malic acid (found in apples), tartaric acid (found in grapes), and others.
AHA is most commonly used for skin conditions such as wrinkles, dry skin, aging skin, or acne. Not all cosmetics that contain AHA have concentration information on the label. For your safety, it’s best to use products that identify the concentration of active ingredients. If you’re unsure which skincare products are right for you, consult your dermatologist.
How does AHA work?
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) work by removing the outer layer of the dead skin cells. This process is called chemical exfoliation. AHAs penetrate the deeper skin layers and promote skin firmness. Cosmetic products such as creams and lotion containing AHAs may help with fine lines, irregular pigmentations, or age spots.
Cosmetics with a low concentration of AHA up to 10% will generally not cause any side effects such as skin irritation, but prudence is advised. The skin requires time to get used to skincare products. Therefore, a patch test is recommended 24 hours before applying AHA for the first time. You can start with alternate day application and then proceed to use it every day. Do not apply too close to the eyes and lips. Make sure you use good sunscreen lotion because AHA may make the skin sensitive to the sun.
What are the benefits of AHA?
Cosmetic products containing alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are effective for treating skin conditions such as:
- Skin aging: The application of lotion, creams, or skin peels containing AHAs along with lactic acid, citric acid, mandelic acid, or glycolic acid in concentrations up to 25% can lower wrinkles and sun damage or aging signs. They rejuvenate photoaged skin if used daily. Peels are usually recommended to be used every 2-4 weeks.
- Dry skin: Creams and lotion containing 12% lactic acid, a specific AHA, can improve dry skin issues if used twice daily.
- Acne: Solutions, lotion, or creams containing AHAs such as glycolic acid, malic acid, or citric acid can reduce the signs of acne in teenagers and adults. A peel containing 40% glycolic acid is useful after every 2-week interval but only under medical supervision.
- Acne scars: Applying facial peels or lotion containing AHAs can improve the appearance of acne scars.
- Dark skin patches on your face known as 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 reduces unwanted skin coloration in people with epidermal-type and mixed-type melisma. Applying a peel containing 30% glycolic acid as part of a program also involving laser treatment appears to be better than just the laser treatment for reducing the unwanted skin coloration of mixed-type melasma.
What are the side effects?
Mostly, skin application of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) with 10% or less concentration is likely safe when used and applied as per the given directions. However, some people may have extra sensitivity to sunlight after using it. Therefore, sunscreen lotion should be applied along with AHA skin creams or lotion to avoid mild skin irritation, redness, swelling, itching, and skin discoloration. It is better if you can use it in the morning. AHA creams with a 10% concentration or less are likely safe to apply to the skin during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
For some people, AHAs may cause acne, so it is advised to mix up AHA and beta hydroxy acid containing serums.