Understanding Alpha and Beta Hydroxyl Acids in Skin Care

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Alpha and Beta hydroxyl acids also known as AHAs and BHAs respectively, are very popular in anti-aging skin care products. These products actually do what they claim to do, which is to reduce the appearance of winkles, even out skin tone, and smooth out your complexion.

Alpha and beta hydroxyl acids are similar to a microdermabrasion or exfoliate treatment. They slough off the top layers of the skin thus promoting new skin cell growth. Additionally they claim to stimulate the production of collagen and elasticity in the skin.

Alpha hydroxyl acids are derived from fruit, milk and sugars. They are represented on skin care labeling as:
Glycolic acid - sugar cane
Lactic acid - milk
Malic acid 0 apples and pears
Citric acid- oranges and lemons
Tartaric acid - grapes

Alpha hydroxyl acids are water soluble which makes them the choice for sun damaged skin in which skin sensitivity or breakouts are not a problem.

Beta hydroxyl acid is salicylic acid which is derived from aspirin and is oil soluble. Beta hydroxyl acid is best for oily skin that is prone to breakouts, blackheads and whiteheads. The acid is able to penetrate deep into the pores to exfoliate and clean. Furthermore, because Beta-hydroxyl acids are derived from aspirin they retain anti-inflammatory properties.

The level of hydroxyl acids in skin-care products should be at a minimum concentration of 5% to 10% and at a pH of 3 to 4 for it to be effective. Cosmetologists are able to use a solution of 20% to 30% and physicians can use up to a 70% concentration. A concentration of 20% is much like a microdermabrasion treatment where it actually erases fine lines and smoothes out the complexion. Normally this can be achieved in one to three applications and last 3 to 6 months to maintain a smooth complexion. A concentration of 50% to 70% will remove surface scars and fine lines and winkles and last two to five years. However at this concentration you could expect severe redness, flaking, and weeping up to four weeks or so. Remember, the higher the level of concentration the longer the recovery period. Consider an hydroxl acid as a very mild chemical peel at 5% to an intense peel at a 50% concentration or higher.

Hydroxyl acids can do wonders in sloughing off the dead skin and promoting new skin cell growth, although they do have their drawbacks. The major side effects of these acids are skin irritation and sun sensitivity. Skin irritation can be mild to extreme causing redness, burning, itching and possible scarring, especially on dark skin people. While hydroxyl acids can reverse the signs of aging such as brown, age spots and fine lines, you skin is left very susceptible to sun burn and sun sensitivity.

When using hydroxyl acids allow the acid to penetrate the skin then apply a sunscreen that contains UVA and UVB protection if going outdoors.

Sunscreens that are mixed with hydroxyl acids are usually ineffective. Additionally, be wary of buying products that claim to have either alpha or beta hydroxyl acids, for these acids to work they must have a concentration of 5% to 10% and a pH of 3 to 4, however this information is rarely seen on the labels.

Below are a few tips when purchasing an alpha or beta hydroxyl acid:
Do not buy a hydroxyl acid combined with a sunscreen
Consider a hydroxyl acid that includes a moisturizer, or an exfoliate with hydroxyl acid. Only use one skin care product with an hydroxyl acid to avoid skin irritation.
If possible, test the product with a pH test strip, the acid must have at least 3 to 4 pH in order for it to be effective.

Do not purchase cleansers with hydroxyl acids. The hydroxyl acid must have time to penetrate the skin to be effective.

For easy exfoliates, facial masks and facial peels you can easily make at home, visit Complete Skin Care Therapy

Carol Belanger, author of 300+ Skin Care Recipes

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