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Common Myths and Misconceptions

Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Common Myths and Misconceptions

There is a lot of information out about Alpha Hydroxy Acids, however, much of it is misleading or simply untrue. Separating the truth from the rumors can be nearly impossible for the average person. Here are a few of the common myths surrounding Alpha Hydroxy Acids.

Myth #1: Alpha Hydroxy Acids thin the skin. Actually, the opposite is true. AHA's at greater bioavailability appear to have dermal effects that influence the formation of collagen. Alpha Hydroxy Acids, on topical application to photoaged skin, have been shown to substantially increase skin thickness. Skin biopsies revealed increased synthesis of mucopolysaccharides and collagen as well.

Myth #2: Alpha Hydroxy Acids cause sun sensitivity. Used correctly, Alpha Hydroxy Acids do not increase sun sensitivity. Sun sensitivity occurs when skin is irritated and inflammation occurs. Those with very fair coloring are especially susceptible to this since their skin tends to be more sensitive. Avoiding high concentrations (15% or more) or products with pH's lower than 3 can help avoid this. For those with more sensitive skin, use of a non-irritating AHA such as Mandelic Acid, Lactic Acid, or Gluconolactone (Gluconic Acid) will help one avoid this problem.

Myth #3: Use of Salicylic Acid or a mechanical scrub will produce identical exfoliation benefits. Salicylic acid works from the uppermost layer of the skin, dissolving skin layer by layer. Mechanical scrubs work only to remove already loosened skin cells on the upper layer of skin. Alpha Hydroxy Acids work at the lowermost levels of the stratum corneum. It appears that AHA's modulate new stratum corneum formation by weakening the bonds between corneocytes (a type of skin cell) at the lowest levels of the stratum corneum. This activity on the formation encourages a smoother, flatter cell layout in the stratum corneum. This new distribution of cells is particularly useful for prepping skin for peels.

Myth #4: Anti-Wrinkle benefits of AHA's are due to their exfoliating nature. While it is true that the exfoliating nature of AHA's contribute to softer skin that is more even in tone, the clinical effects of AHA's in modifying wrinkles and photoaging are due to increased skin thickness and new collagen formation.

Myth #5: When using AHA's, the skin looks smoother because the skin is swollen from inflammation. Improvements in wrinkles are not due to inflammation or any edema formation (excess accumulation of fluid in tissue spaces). Examination of biopsied skin specimens before and after treatment with AHA's have confirmed that skin plumpness and other beneficial effects are sustained long after discontinuation of topical treatment.

Myth #6: All AHA products are created equal. Concentration, pH, formulation technology, and AHA type are all factors that must be considered when choosing an AHA product. AHA products must contain a significant concentration (between 8% and 10% for home use) in order to ensure effectiveness. Products with a pH range of 3.5 to 4.0 are safe and effective for use at home. Different AHA's work best on certain skin types and conditions. For example, Glycolic Acid works well on aging and acne-prone skin, but may be too harsh for those with sensitive skin.

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