Alpha hydroxy acids are an entire class of organic, water-soluble acids. The most common of the alpha hydroxy acids are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Alpha hydroxy acids are derived from a wide number of sources, including fruits, nuts and milk. In extremely high concentrations, they are used by dermatologists as chemical peels.
Alpha hydroxy acid, when sold over the counter at concentrations of 10% or less, has the following properties:
Exfoliant - alpha hydroxy acid literally eats away the outer layers of the skin, revealing the living cells underneath. This is a mild form of skin resurfacing. In order to be effective, the alpha hydroxy acid must be left on the skin long enough to absorb into the cells.
For acne, salicylic acid (also known as beta hydroxy acid) is a better choice. Because beta hydroxy acid is oil-soluble, it can be absorbed into the pores where it works on the comedones and blockages.
Alpha hydroxy acid can cause irritation of the skin, because it reveals the more sensitive, younger skin cells. Other side effects are those to be expected, including stinging, redness, inflammation and sensitivity to the sun.
Though alpha hydroxy acids are good for skin health and against wrinkles, they are not suitable for fighting acne.
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