ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS Overview Information
Alpha hydroxy acids are a group of natural acids found in foods. Alpha hydroxy acids include citric acid (found in citrus fruits), glycolic acid (found in sugar cane), lactic acid (found in sour milk and tomato juice), malic acid (found in apples), tartaric acid (found in grapes), and others.
Alpha hydroxy acids are most commonly used for skin conditions such as dry skin, wrinkled skin, or acne.
Not all cosmetics that contain alpha hydroxy acid have the concentration information on the label. For safety's sake, it's best to use products that identify the concentration of active ingredients.
How does it work?
Alpha hydroxy acids seem to work by removing the top layers of dead skin cells. They can also increase the thickness of deeper layers of skin, promoting firmness.
Likely Effective for:
- Dry skin. Applying lotion or cream containing alpha hydroxy acid can improve dry skin.
- Treating sun damage when applied to the skin in a cream or lotion. Applying alpha hydroxy acid in a lotion, cream, or solution can decrease wrinkles and some other signs of sun-damaged skin. Alpha hydroxy acid skin peels might also work, but results are inconsistent.
Possibly Effective for:
- Acne when applied to the skin in a cream, peel, or lotion. Applying creams, peels, or lotions containing alpha hydroxy acids reduces signs of acne in teens and adults.
- Acne scars. Applying alpha hydroxy acid to the skin in a facial peel or lotion seems to improve the appearance of acne scars.
- Dry mouth. Using a mouth spray containing a specific alpha hydroxy acid, malic acid, seems to improve symptoms of dry mouth caused by certain medicines.
- Fibromyalgia. Taking a specific alpha hydroxy acid, called malic acid, in combination with magnesium seems to reduce pain and tenderness caused by fibromyalgia.
- Reducing the pigmentation associated with a skin disorder called 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 seems to reduce unwanted skin coloration in people with two of the three types of melasma, epidermal-type and mixed-type melasma. However, glycolic acid facial peels don't seem to work for the third type of melasma, dermal-type melasma. 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.
- An inherited skin disorder that causes dry, scaly skin (ichthyosis). Early research shows that applying alpha hydroxy acid preparations for 1-3 weeks helps improve the appearance of skin in people with this condition.
- A skin virus called Molluscum contagiosum. Early research shows that applying a solution containing the specific alpha hydroxy acid, called lactic acid, along with salicylic acid might clear the warts associated with this condition.
- A skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis. Early research shows that applying a solution containing urea, lactic acid, and propylene glycol (Kaprolac) every day might reduce redness and peeling associated with this skin disorder.
- Stretch marks. Early research shows that applying a 70% glycolic acid peel to stretch marks improves discoloration and reduces stretch mark width. However, the stretch marks do not completely disappear.
- Other conditions.
ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS Side Effects & Safety
Alpha hydroxy acids at a concentration of 10% or less as a lotion or cream are LIKELY SAFE for most people when applied to the skin appropriately and as directed. In some people, alpha hydroxy acids can make the skin extra sensitive to sunlight. Be sure to use a sunscreen while using alpha hydroxy acid products.
Alpha hydroxy acids can also cause mild skin irritation, redness, swelling, itching, and skin discoloration.
Facial peels, lotions, and creams with a concentration greater than 10% should only be used under the supervision of a dermatologist. Facial peels can cause moderate to severe skin irritation, redness, and burning. Facial peels left on the skin for periods longer than recommended can cause severe burns to the skin.
When taken by mouth, the alpha hydroxy acid called malic acid is POSSIBLY SAFE when used short-term. Some people can have side effects including diarrhea, nausea, and general stomach discomfort.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Alpha hydroxy creams at a concentration of 10% or less are LIKELY SAFE when applied to the skin during pregnancy and breast-feeding. But don't take malic acid (the form of alpha hydroxy acids that is generally taken by mouth). Not enough is known about the safety of malic acid during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
Sensitive skin: Alpha hydroxy acids can worsen skin conditions by causing skin irritation and removal of the top layer of skin cells.
ALPHA HYDROXY ACIDS Dosing
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For fibromyalgia: Specific tablets containing 1200 mg malic acid plus 300 mg of magnesium hydroxide (Super Malic tablets) have been taken twice daily for 6 months.
- For dry mouth: A mouth spray containing 1% malic acid, a specific alpha hydroxy acid, has been used as needed.
- For dry skin: A cream containing alpha hydroxy acids or a lotion containing 12% lactic acid, a specific alpha hydroxy acid, have been applied twice daily.
- For treating skin wrinkled and aged by sunlight: Creams, solutions, or lotions, containing the alpha hydroxy acids lactic acid, citric acid, or glycolic acid in concentrations up to 25% are used, usually twice daily. Peels containing 70% glycolic acid or 85% lactic acid have also been used, usually once per month.
- For acne: Solutions or creams containing 14% gluconolactone or 10% glycolic acid have been used. Creams containing alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, malic acid, or citric acid, have been used in combination with other ingredients. A peel containing 40% glycolic acid has been used in 2 week intervals.
- For improving the appearance of acne scars: Glycolic acid (GA) facial peels are used. Peels containing 20% to 70% glycolic acid have been applied every two or six weeks. Peels are applied for up to 4-5 minutes. Completing the series at least 5-6 times is usually needed before skin looks better. Sometimes a 35% glycolic acid cream is used along with a treatment called microneedling.
- For lightening brown patches due to a condition called melasma: A 10% lotion of the glycolic acid (GA) is applied with a sunscreen to facial skin nightly for 2 weeks. Then a peeling program is done monthly for 3 months in a row. The peeling program features a 50% GA peel applied three times to the face and left on for a period of 2-5 minutes each time (first peel 2 minutes, second peel 4 minutes, and third peel 5 minutes). A peel containing 30% glycolic acid has been used every week in combination with laser treatment.
APPLIED TO THE SKIN:
- For acne: Solutions or creams containing 14% gluconolactone or 10% glycolic acid have been used. Creams containing alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid and malic acid, have been used in combination with other ingredients.