Alpha Hydroxy Acids (also known as AHA’s) are chemicals that occur naturally in fruits, milk and sugar, but don’t be fooled by the natural description as 99% of AHA’s used in cosmetics are synthetic. AHA’s are used in cosmetics & skincare products for a variety of purposes; from smoothing fine lines and surface wrinkles, improving skin texture and tone, unblocking and cleansing pores and to adjust the PH level in skin. But it really all depends on the concentration that the AHA’s are used at. At a low concentration they work as a water binding agent, at a higher concentration they are used to exfoliate skin cells. AHA’s exfoliate by causing the surface of the skin to shed (they break down the substance the glues skin cells together). Beware as AHA’s are notorious skin irritants, as they slough off skin they make it more susceptible to irritation and UV damage. A US study found that users of AHA’s had an increased sensitivity to UV and that on average UV induced cellular damage doubled. The worrying thing is that the effect lasted up to a week after AHA usage had stopped.
Kate’s Golden Rules For Safe AHA Use
Rule Number One
If you must use an AHA choose either Glycolic (for exfoliation) or Lactic (for skin moisturizing as it acts as a humectant). Avoid Malic or Citric acids as they are less stable, less researched and will also irritate your skin.
Rule Number Two
If you do experience any irritation, even if it is just a mild itching or redness stop using the product immediately. Whatever the manufacturer would have you believe; skincare shouldn’t sting or cause any pain. Irritation and redness is your skin telling you the product is harmful.
Rule Number Three
If you are using an AHA, don’t use it every single day, give your skin a break as it doesn’t need to be constantly bombarded with chemicals. Your skin has the natural ability to heal itself, give your skin a vacation and allow it to do what it was designed to do!
Rule Number Four
Avoid high concentration AHA products and salon treatments. Unfortunately I have encountered too many clients who have come to me with highly irritated, painful and peeling skin after attempting to perform an AHA peel at home or undergoing a salon Glycolic peel. If you do feel that your skin needs this treatment please see a dermatologist. AHA’s are not harmless little ingredients, they are pretty serious acids. A dermatologist will be able to advise and treat your skin with the level of AHA that is right for your skin and advise you on the correct aftercare.