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Alpha-hydroxy is a chemical compound derived from fruit and milk sugars. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are use in topical skin care products to exfoliate, or slough away, dead skin cells and promote collagen growth. They can be useful in promoting smoother, even-toned skin and may reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines in some individuals.
AHAs are available in a number of different synthetic and natural formulations. Lactic AHA is derived from milk products, while glycolic AHA is derived from sugarcane. Other AHA compounds include citric acid (from fruit) and malic acid (from apples).
AHAs work by removing dead cells at the surface of the skin. In higher concentrations, it promotes collagen production, which may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in the skin. The acids penetrate deep into the skin, where they actually begin to damage skin cells. This skin damage triggers the production of collagen, a fibrous protein and a building block of tissue and skin, as the body attempts to repair the cell damage.
Cosmetic, over-the-counter preparations of alpha-hydroxy must contain less than 10% of the compound according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. This is a high enough concentration to promote exfoliation, but not potent enough to generate collagen production. The concentration of AHA required to produce this effect is only available with a prescription from a dermatologist or licensed healthcare professional, or through professionally administered treatments from a licensed cosmetologist.
Guidelines recommended by the trade regulatory association Cosmetic Ingredient Review have been adapted by the U.S. FDA for consumer AHA products. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review is a self-regulating agency established
Author Info: Paula Ford-Martin, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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