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How do alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) make skin look younger?

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) contain lactic acid (found in milk), fruit acids and glycolic acids (found in sugar cane). AHAs, like tretinoin derivatives, work by peeling away dead and thickened areas of the skin.

Cosmetic treatments containing highly concentrated AHAs, known as chemical peels, have long been available from dermatologists. AHAs used by trained cosmetologists contain 20% to 30% concentrations of AHAs and provide a superficial smoothing of the skin's texture similar to microdermabrasion. These treatments must be repeated every three to six months to maintain results.

Doctors can use AHA products with concentrations of up to 70% in chemical peels to erase fine wrinkles and remove surface scars; the results of these treatments can last up to five years.

Over-the-counter (OTC) preparations are required by the FDA to contain less than 10% concentration of AHAs. They may provide a little improvement of scaly skin.

Higher concentrations of the active ingredients in OTC products are buffered, and therefore neutralized, to prevent peeling. These OTC AHA products are not known to improve skin wrinkling. Improvements with these or prescription products last only as long as the product is used. Long-term effects of AHAs are unknown. They can irritate the skin and make it more sensitive to sunlight. Signs of sensitivity are redness and burning.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.