Alpha Hydroxy Acids (usually referred to as AHAs) are a commonly used “active ingredient” in many skin care products but are they good for your skin ? This article will answer this question and explain what these acids are and what they do to your skin.
What Are AHAs ?
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are naturally occurring acid substances that are often integrated into skin care products. The acidic nature of the substances can remove dirt, oil, dead skin cells and surface layers of living skin cells on the face. So in weak concentrations AHA's act as a cleansing and exfoliating agent. In stronger concentrations, they are effectively a facial peel.
There are various types of AHA's but the most common ones are :
- Glycolic Acid – this is derived from Sugar Cane
- Lactic Acid – this is derived from milk
- Citric Acid – derived from citrus fruits like oranges
- Salicylic Acid – derived from willow bark. This acid is actually a beta hydroxy acid which means it is oil soluble (the others are water soluble). This means that products using salicylic acid can be absorbed into the deeper layers of the skin.
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Cleopatra knew about AHA's....she used to bath in Asses milk[/caption]
What Happens To Skin Treated With An AHA ?
Regular over the counter skin care products will have no more than 10% AHA's in them. AHA's used by qualified dermatologists, beauticians and cosmetic surgeons will be far much concentrated, sometimes as much as 20-50%. As you can imagine, these higher concentrations will have a stronger reaction on your skin.
The aim of the AHA is to help in the natural turnover of surface layer skin cells. Skin cells are naturally replenished by the body every 30 days so that younger skin appears on the epidermis or stratum corneum (top layer of epidermis). This slows with aging leading to a build up of dead skin cells on the top layer of skin. So AHA's give the body a helping hand.
Apart from the surface skin being physically younger, it is believed that this sloughing off of dead skin cells, encourages collagen and elastin production in the deeper lying skin cells in the dermis too. This will make the skin look younger by making it plumper and firmer. Plumper skin will have less wrinkles too.
So those are the benefits of AHA's but what are the consequences ?
For people will sensitive or dry skin, this peeling away of skin cells could cause inflammation and swelling in the new skin. Depending on the concentration of AHA, this swelling will most likely occur to any skin type.
A facial peel, using 70% AHA's for instance will cause swelling and inflammation for a number of days.
Another consequence is that the new layer of skin will be more sensitive to the surrounding environment, particularly sunlight because the skins natural barrier has been removed.
Tips On Using Skin Care products With AHAs
Know your skin type and test it's sensitivity to a product with AHA active ingredients. This could be with a patch test on a part of your skin that isn't visible.
You can get AHAs in Cleansers, moisturizers, wrinkle creams and a whole host of other skin care products. Only have one product with AHA's in it. Doubling up will double the potential reaction. Also, avoid cleansers with AHA's as they need time to be absorbed into the skin. Cleansers are generally wiped off the skin before the acids can be absorbed into the skin rendering them useless.