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What are AHA’S in skin care?
AHA’s stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acids, which are a class of chemical compounds. Don’t let the word “acid” scare you. AHA’s are actually more gentle on your skin than must cleansing scrubs!
There are several different kinds of Alpha Hydroxy Acids, including; glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid and tartaric acid. AHA’s can be naturally derived from fruit, nuts, sugar, dairy products or red wine.
How AHA exfoliants work on the skin
As we age, our skin’s renewal process slows down. This can be due to UV exposure, undernourishment and ageing. Unfortunately, our skin begins to look older, more dull and a bit deflated. The good news is we can speed up the skin’s renewal process and boost collagen production with an AHA exfoliant. Alpha hydroxy acid’s are very potent and effective when used in skincare products. AHA’s work to exfoliate the top layers of skin by breaking the bonds between outer layer skin cells, sloughing off dead skin and revealing new undamaged skin underneath. This can improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, firmness, texture and tone!
Their standout hydrating and sun damage repairing properties make them ideal for skin with advanced signs of ageing. AHA helps thicken your skin, improve skin elasticity, and increase collagen density. AHA also attracts water to your skin. So in addition to speeding up the exfoliation of your topmost layers, AHA helps improve your skin in ways that will result in fewer lines and wrinkles and attract hydration to help your skin look plumper.
Benefits of adding an AHA to your skincare routine:
Alpha hydroxy acids offer a number of benefits, but how many of them are backed by science. Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits of AHAs.
As alpha hydroxy acid breaks the bonds between skin cells and helps speed up exfoliation, it can also open up or loosen clogged comedones that are at or near the surface of your skin. Studies show that AHA is effective in treating mild or moderate acne or helping maintain against future breakouts after stronger acne treatment.
In one study, 248 patients with mild to moderate acne in Italy were prescribed Hyseac AHA cream to be applied twice a day for 60 days. These patients had comedonic acne, inflammatory acne or a combination of both. The results of that study:
The tolerability was good to excellent in 92.3% patients, without significant differences between patients using AHA cream in monotherapy (90.0%) or associated with concomitant pharmacological treatment (97.6%). The efficacy was overall high in 64.2% patients, again without significant differences related to concomitant pharmacological treatment or not (64.8% vs. 63.3%) and/or the acne clinical type (comedonic vs. inflammatory vs. mixed: 69.2% vs. 66.7% vs. 58%). [source: Baldo A1, Bezzola P, Curatolo S, Florio T, Lo Guzzo G, Lo Presti M, Sala GP, Serra F, Tonin E, Pellicano M, Pimpinelli N. (2010) G Ital Dermatol Venereol]
2. AHA has also been shown to reduce acne scars, post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH), sun damage spots and other skin discolorations. This is thanks to how AHA speeds up exfoliation at the skin surface level.
In one study, 7 Indian patients with darker skin (Fitzpatrick skin type IV-V) and acne scarring were treated with lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid, every 2 weeks for up to 2 months total. These patients were monitored for 3 months after the end of the treatment as well to ensure that the perceived effects of the peels were not just short term. How did it turn out?
At the end of 3 months, there was definite improvement in the texture, pigmentation, and appearance of the treated skin, with lightening of scars. Significant improvement (greater than 75% clearance of lesions) occurred in one patient (14.28%), good improvement (51-75% clearance) in three patients (42.84%), moderate improvement (26-50% clearance) in two patients (28.57%), and mild improvement (1-25% clearance) in one patient (14.28%). [source: Sachdeva S. (2010) J Cosmet Dermatol]
3. Another study involved a group of 33 older female patients with a mean age of 55.5 years and moderate to severe sun damage on their hands, like age spots, freckles and other discolouration. These patients’ hands were treated twice daily for 8 weeks with a topical cream formulated of an alpha hydroxy acid, antioxidants, and depigmenting agents. The results:
Thirty-five subjects were enrolled with a mean age of 55.6 years; 33 subjects completed the study. The IGA of the appearance of hand photodamage improved from a mean (standard deviation) score of 5.0 (0.8) at baseline to 3.1 (1.5) and 2.6 (1.3) at weeks 4 and 8, respectively (1=mild; 9=severe). Based on expert-grader evaluation, subjects demonstrated statistically significant improvements from baseline in IGA at weeks 4 and 8 in age spots and freckling at weeks 4 and 8, (P<.0003) and in skin discolourations at week 8 (P<.05). The majority of subjects reported that they perceived improvements in each of the 9 parameters associated with skin appearance. No adverse events were reported.
The appearance of age-related hand pigmentation characteristics were significantly improved at 4 and 8 weeks of treatment. Subjects reported post-treatment improvements in other characteristics associated with healthy skin. [source: Gold MH, Gallagher C. (2013) J Drugs Dermatol]
4. You would guess that using an alpha hydroxy acid to remove the topmost layers of skin would result in a thin skin, but actually the opposite is true. In addition to AHA’s reversal of age and sun damage and discolouration as evidenced in the previous study, AHAs also help thicken your skin and increase skin elasticity and collagen density. All of these benefits help fight age-related skin deterioration, like wrinkles and fine lines.
In the following study, patients applied AHAs to their forearm to measure exactly this and found positive improvements on all fronts:
Alpha-Hydroxy acids (AHAs) have been reported to improve aging skin. The mechanisms of action of AHAs on epidermal and dermal compartments need clarification. Our purpose was to determine the effects of AHAs on photoaged human skin by clinical and microanalytic means. Patients applied a lotion containing 25% glycolic, lactic, or citric acid to one forearm and a placebo lotion to the opposite forearm for an average of 6 months. Thickness of forearm skin was measured throughout the study. Biopsy specimens from both forearms were processed for analysis at the end of the study.
Treatment with AHAs caused an approximate 25% increase in skin thickness. The epidermis was thicker and papillary dermal changes included increased thickness, increased acid mucopolysaccharides, improved quality of elastic fibers, and increased density of collagen. No inflammation was evident.Treatment with AHAs produced significant reversal of epidermal and dermal markers of photoaging. [source: Ditre CM 1 , Griffin TD , Murphy GF , Sueki H , Telegan B , Johnson WC , Yu RJ , Van Scott EJ (1996) Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology]
Things to consider before adding AHA’s to your skincare routine: