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Hydroxy Acid Myths Expelled

Even with all the proven benefits of alpha and beta hydroxy acids in skincare there still have been some critics to call their use in over the counter products into question. Usually this has arisen from misinformation or from the improper use of hydroxy acids in consumer formulas. The following is a common list of misunderstandings or outright myths regarding alpha & beta hydroxy acid use:


Myth 1 – Hydroxy acids thin the skin. Actually, it is quite the opposite. Hydroxy acids at appropriate concentrations (i.e. at levels high enough to offer substantial bioavailability but low enough to be used daily) can incite the synthesis of new collagen fibers, which subsequently increases skin thickness. Skin biopsies in clinical studies after regular alpha hydroxy acid treatments have revealed increased synthesis of hydrating mucopolysaccharides as well as the aforementioned increased collagen density.


Myth 2 – Ingredients that end in "acid" are irritating and should be avoided. This is completely untrue. There are many compounds that are acids that humans need for their basic survival. Essential amino acids, for instance, are a group of proteins that all humans must obtain from diet to not only synthesize muscle to but construct almost every structure of the body. Essential fatty acids are required by many body structures for their basic composition, most notably the brain (which is composed largely of Omega-3 fatty acids). Even hydroxy acids used for resurfacing and exfoliating the skin are natural compounds in the body. Lactic acid, for instance, is an alpha hydroxy acid produced in the body during exercise. When used at a very precise concentration in proper proportion hydroxy acids can be very mild on the skin while they work to resurface the epidermis (this is especially true of naturally derived hydroxy acids).


Myth 3 – Hydroxy acids cause sun sensitivity even at low concentrations. Sun sensitivity occurs when skin is irritated, inflamed, or worn down (those with very fair coloring being especially susceptible). At appropriate pH and concentration in skincare products used daily, the rate of regeneration versus the rate of exfoliation induced by hydroxy acids should be complimentary and not compromise the epidermis to a photosensitive degree (and, as stated previously, hydroxy acids have been shown in studies to actually enhance skin thickness and resilience over time). It is when the hydroxy acid content of a product is above 15% and/or has a pH lower than 3 that higher levels of sun sensitivity can occur. Products with an excessive hydroxy acid content, especially those with 15% or more hydroxy acid content, should not be used every day and are approaching spa/physician treatment levels.


Myth 4 – Mechanical scrubs will produce identical exfoliation benefits as hydroxy acids.  For exfoliation and renewal purposes, hydroxy acids work on the stratum corneum layer of the skin, dissolving it down by thin layers and modulating new stratum corneum formation by weakening the bonds between corneocytes (a type of skin cell). Mechanical scrubs, on the other hand, work only to remove already loosened skin cells in the upper epidermis. They work by two different modes of action, though mechanically scrubbing away surface cells ready to be exfoliated with a washcloth or mitt after hydroxy acid use can help the process.


Myth 5 – The anti-wrinkle benefits of hydroxy acids are due to their exfoliating nature. This is only partially true. Hydroxy acids do contribute to softer, more evenly toned and textured skin through their resurfacing abilities, but this action is substantially enhanced by the increase in skin thickness and new collagen formation that can accompany it when certain hydroxy acids are included at higher concentrations.

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