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

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
For a more youthful complexion wash with a weekly AHA at-home skin peel. Doing so will remove dead skin cells, making your skin brighter and tighter. Look for at-home peels containing glycolic acid for best results.

Every night -- and only at night -- wash your face using an alpha hydroxy (AHA)-based cleanser. Most non-AHA cleansers don’t do a good enough job getting rid of all the dirt that’s built up on your skin throughout the day; soap and water just cleans the top layer of dirt. AHAs are gentle acids derived from fruits that actually help dissolve dirt and clumps of dead cells, clearing them away and allowing young skin cells beneath them to grow faster.
You can find AHA-based cleansers in drugstores for about $10 to $15. Look for “-ic” ingredients on the product label, such as glycolic, lactic, citric, malic, or tartaric acid. Use a dime-size amount every night to clean your skin and remove makeup. Your exfoliated skin will better absorb the creams that you apply afterward, leaving you with luminous, radiant, and younger-looking skin.

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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.