Ingredient Deep Dive: AHAs

What are AHAs?

Alpha-hydroxy acids, most commonly known as AHAs, are acids derived from plants or animals. There are various types of AHAs that are frequently used in skincare products including:

  1. Citric Acid (from citrus fruits)
  2. Glycolic Acid (from sugar cane)
  3. Hydroxycaproic Acid (from royal jelly)
  4. Hydroxycaprylic Acid (from animals)
  5. Lactic Acid (from lactose or other carbohydrates)
  6. Malic Acid (from fruits such as apples, watermelons, and cherries)
  7. Tartaric Acid (from grapes)

How can AHAs benefit the skin?

AHAs help exfoliate the skin by shedding off dead skin cells. This allows for new cells to regenerate. Exfoliation is the main purpose of all AHAs. Due to the slowing of the natural skin cell cycle, dead skin cells can build up on the skin and will eventually dull your complexion. When there are a lot of build-ups, other skin issues may arise such as wrinkles, age spots, and acne.

As AHAs exfoliate the skin, the new skin that is revealed is brighter and more radiant. These acids also promote collagen production. Collagen is a fiber that helps the skin look plumper and feels smoother. AHAs destroy the old collagen fibers to make way for new ones.

AHAs also have anti-aging effects. They improve the skin’s overall tone and texture. By promoting cell turnover, AHAs can help minimize and correct skin discoloration.

Among the different types of AHAs, glycolic acids and lactic acids are the most potent. The effectiveness of AHAs depends on the type, concentration, pH level, and other ingredients. When AHAs are found in skincare products, the FDA recommends that their concentration should be no higher than 10%.

What should I watch out for when using products with AHAs?

After using products containing AHAs, there may be temporary and minor side effects such as burning, itching, blisters, and eczema. If this occurs, it is recommended to use these products every other day until your skin becomes more used to these potent ingredients.

Be cautious of sun exposure when using products with AHAs. Peeling may occur with UV ray sensitivity. It is highly recommended to use sunscreen daily. Additionally, consult your doctor before using these products if you have freshly shaved skin, cuts or burns on your skin, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, are pregnant, or breastfeeding.


Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are used in skincare products to smooth skin texture and to detoxify and clean the pores. Although AHAs may induce minor side effects, formulators are aware of the possible side effects and ensure the concentrations are at the FDA-recommended level.

The main takeaway is that AHAs help exfoliate your skin. Your skin will become more radiant, plumper, and smoother. When using products with AHAs, expect to experience an improvement in your overall skin complexion.

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