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Alpha-hydroxy Acids (AHA)

Alpha-hydroxy Acids (AHA)

Fast Facts       


Type of Ingredient: Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) are used as exfoliants to help unclog pores and slough away dead skin cells to promote smoother, more beautiful skin.

Main Benefits: Alpha hydroxy acids include water-soluble acids like glycolic, citric and lactic acids. They are used on the skin to help unclog pores, fight acne, restore radiance, fade away dark spots and acne scars to even out skin tone and improve overall texture, making skin feel and look smoother and less dull.

Who Should Use It: AHAs are generally more often used for anti-aging benefits, although they can effectively treat acne as well. AHAs are recommended for normal to dry skin types because they have more moisturizing ability than BHAs.

Ideal For These Concerns: Smooth and soften rough texture, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, provide hydration, brighten and even out skin tone, and unclog pores.

How Often Can You Use It: You can use AHA every day depending on its concentration. Generally, a concentration of 8 percent or lower will not produce noticeable results. This is to be expected with most over the counter products because the concentrations are rarely strong enough to make a significant difference.  


What are alpha-hydroxy acids? 

Alpha hydroxy acid cream products are made with acids that exist naturally in many foods such as citrus fruits, apples, sour milk, and grapes. This group of acids includes citrus acid, salicylic acid, tartaric acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid, among others. These are commonly used in alpha hydroxy acid lotion products as one of the active ingredients to stimulate the skin’s regenerative processes and promote general skin health. The unique properties of these acids make them useful for moisturizing and especially improving skin texture. When looking for the best alpha hydroxy cream, keep in mind that this product has several uses, and can be incorporated into your skincare routine with different purposes.

Popular types of Alpha-hydroxy acids includes lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, salicylic acid…


The Benefits of alpha-hydroxy acids

An alpha hydroxy acid lotion affects all layers of the skin in different ways. This makes the cream a versatile tool that can help you achieve several goals. First, the active ingredients in an alpha hydroxy acid cream improve the skin’s condition by removing dead skin cells from the top layers of skin. As you age, your body slows down the turnover rate of cell production, leaving dead skin cells on the skin for longer. This results in a greater likelihood of wrinkles and a dull skin tone. The acids in an alpha-hydroxy cream help remove these old cells and stimulate the skin to produce newer, healthier cells in a shorter amount of time.

Since AHAs are water-soluble, they tend to work more on the surface of the skin. This is also why they are recommended for dry to normal skin types. 

An alpha hydroxy acid also increases the thickness of the lower layers of skin, promoting skin firmness and elasticity. The exfoliation process that makes the upper layers of the skin feel softer and healthier. The alpha-hydroxy acid works here by dissolving the “glue” that holds dead skin cells in place, allowing them to be expelled out of the body. For the lower layers of skin, this also provides increased collagen production which leads to thicker, firmer skin.

An alpha hydroxy acid lotion is routinely found in many anti-aging systems, but the benefits of alpha-hydroxy acid are believed to do more than just get rid of wrinkles. Some of the most common treatments with an alpha hydroxy acid cream include moisturizing dry skin, minimizing oil on the skin to get rid of acne or blackheads, improving skin texture by removing dead skin cells, and reducing skin discoloration, such as age spots on face or hyperpigmentation from scarring.


Generally, a concentration of 8 percent or lower will not produce noticeable results. This is to be expected with most over the counter products because the concentrations are rarely strong enough to make a significant difference. However, studies have shown that an alpha hydroxy acid cream with a concentration of over 15 percent can in some cases provide improvement when used over several weeks or months.



Because an alpha hydroxy acid removes the dead skin cells from the upper layers of skin, it tends to thin that outermost layer of skin, making it more susceptible to sun damage. When undergoing an alpha-hydroxy treatment, you should always use sunblock to prevent permanent skin damage. If you haven’t tried one already, consider using a face moisturizer that already includes a sunscreen during treatment.

People with already dry or sensitive skin may find that an alpha hydroxy acid cream will aggravate their skin condition. Always test a small, inconspicuous area of your skin for at least a week before using the cream regularly. If you find any persistent adverse reactions to an alpha hydroxy acid cream, contact your dermatologist or skincare specialist to prevent any possible permanent skin damage.

The CIR Expert Panel concluded that AHA ingredients are safe for products formulated for home use when used at lower concentrations and controlled pH of the formula and for professional use at higher concentrations at slightly lower pH. The panel further required that home-use products be formulated to avoid increased sun sensitivity or that the use of daily sun protection is advised. 



Yates, R.L., and D.C. Havery, "Determination of Phenol, Resorcinol, Salicylic Acid and α-Hydroxy Acids in Cosmetic Products and Salon Preparations," Journal of Cosmetic Science, vol. 50, pp. 315-325, 1999.

Barrows, Julie N., Memorandum to the Administrative File, "Guidance for Industry: Labeling for Topically Applied Cosmetic Products Containing Alpha Hydroxy Acids as Ingredients," Office of Cosmetics and Colors, CFSAN, FDA, September 12, 2002.