Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are some of the most common substances used to fight acne.  This is actually a group of acids that occur naturally in various foods such as citrus fruits, sugar cane, sour milk, apples and grapes.  They can include citric, malic, glycolic, lactic acid and tartaric acids.  Used in different strengths, these acids can have a number of beneficial side effects, among them improving the condition of the skin.

How do they work to fight pimples?

Acne involves a build-up of oil in the pores of the skin which subsequently leads to the formation of small pits or growths called pimples.  In order to combat acne, it is necessary to control the oil content of the skin as well as remove existing pimples.  Alpha hydroxy acid works to break up the excess oil that forms in the pores as well as remove the top layer of skin, thus exposing the pores to oxygen, which in turn deters the inflammation that leads to acne breakouts.

Of course, the biggest problem for acne sufferers is the scarring caused by this condition once a breakout occurs.  At this stage, alpha hydroxy acid can work to gently exfoliate the skin.  Since this particular form of acid contains a fine, crystal-like grit, it can scrub away the top layer of skin, preventing acne scarring from setting in too deeply and leaving permanent marks.

How are AHAs applied to the skin?

There are a number of different products on the market, including NeoStrata, AlphaHydrox, Derma E and others. Most contain 5-10% glycolic acid; some have higher concentrations and feature other AHAs such as citric or lactic acid.

For the first week, you should use the product every other day on the face. It is OK to use the alpha hydroxy acid in the morning. Men can even use it as an after shave. Wait 15 minutes before applying make-up or sunscreen over it.

It’s important to apply it to all of the skin in the area, not just to the spots you want to treat. This will help prevent new lesions. When you put AHA on your skin, it will burn for a few minutes. This is normal. If the burning is too much for you, then apply cool water to the skin before applying the solution.

If you are not experiencing any problems with the product after the first week of use, you may start using it every day. Use of the alpha hydroxy acid on acne may make the pimples more inflamed (red). This is generally a good sign; this means the treatment is working.

Hydroxyacid in a concentration of 70% or more is considered a chemical peel and may have more side effects than milder concentrations.   This higher concentration should be used carefully and only under the direction of a doctor.   The most common side effects are reddening, hyperpigmentation and potential scarring.

Should I try alpha hydroxy acids for my outbreaks?

If other, milder treatments don’t work for you, you can try a low concentration AHA product and see what kind of results you get. At worst you might experience some mild, short lived irritation. At best it might be exactly what you need to clear up your complexion.

As far as the higher concentration products that you can purchase online as well, we wouldn’t recommend these unless you are under the guidance of a dermatologist. These are very strong solutions and you don’t want to cause any permanent skin scarring or other problems.

There are other acne solutions that you might want to try instead or in conjunction with AHAs. You can learn more about these treatment options below:

Accutane For Treating Acne

Acne Surgery

Retin A To Prevent Breakouts

Tetracycline Can Help With Pimples and Rosacea