Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) Sources, Benefits & Side Effects


Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), are the combination of two compounds that consist of carboxylic acid combined with a hydroxyl group on the neighboring carbon. A natural constituent of sugar cane juice and it is also found in the lactic acid of tomato juice and sour milk. AHA treatment is known for their mildest formula for giving skin treatments.

AHAs includes:

  • Lactic acid which is found in sour milk
  • Tartaric Acid which is found in grapes
  • Citric Acid which is found in citrus fruits
  • Malic Acid which is found in apples
  • Glycolic Acid which is commonly found in sugar cane
  • Mandelic Acid which is found in bitter almond
  • Lactic Acid:

    It is one of the gentler fruit acids. It is used mainly for sensitive skin and fights acne. Lactic acid is often found in milk and other fruits such as Papaya, Grapes, Tomato, Lemon, Pineapple, etc.

(Dosage: Yogurt and grapefruit mask can be applied weekly for better results.)

  • Tartaric Acid:

    It is found in grapes and bananas. It helps in smoothening of the skin and increasing natural glow. Champagne is derived from grapes. It is a detoxifying treatment

(DOSAGE: Mash Grapes and banana with 1-2 spoons of champagne and apply it on a face until it gets dry and rinse it with water. Do it repeatedly for once in a week and you can see the results on your skin.)

  • Citric Acid:

It is found in citrus fruits such as orange, lemon, grapefruit, and lime. Citric acid gives many benefits to the skin. It helps in improving the overall texture of the skin from lightening pigmentation to acne spots.

(DOSAGE: Try this lemon and milk facial mask to inject some citric acid into your beauty routine.)

[Read Detailed Article on Citric Acid]

  • Malic Acid:

    It is amply found in apples. It can reduce skin aging, help deaden acne, and promote collagen production.

(DOSAGE: Mash apple and apply it on face directly and see the results. You can also apply apple cider vinegar rather than applying apple directly.)

  • Glycolic Acid Facial Mask:

    It is one of the most effective exfoliators available. It is found in sugar cane which gives life to the surface layers of the skin.

(DOSAGE: Take 2 tablespoons of raw sugar, 2 tablespoons honey and ½ lemon juice. Mix it well and apply on the face and neck area. Rinse it with water after 5-10 minutes. (Avoid eye area) )

  • Mandelic Acid:

    It is derived from Bitter almond. It is used for anti-aging and acne treatment. Other than this, It is also used for the treatment of urinary infections and oral treatments.

What are the Natural Sources of AHAs:

Papaya: It helps in improving skin texture and tone. It also helps in removing skin tan. And sunburns. Other than beauty and skin, it also balances the digestive system and cardio activities.

Pineapple: It works wonders to the skin. It gives skin a lustrous look. It helps in protecting the skin from acne, fine lines, sun damage and uneven skin toning.

Grapes: It contains proanthocyanins and resveratrol that are very strong antioxidants.  The grape seed extract applying directly on the skin provides protection against harmful ultraviolet radiation.

Tomato: It also contains AHA. It can be applied on the skin directly for anti-aging. It also helps in removing sun burns and prevent skin darkening.

Lemon: It is used for blackhead treatments and lightening of the skin. It also prevents skin from being too much oily.

What are the Benefits of Alpha Hydroxy Acid:

AHAs are well known for the use in cosmetics. They are used to make different skin related cosmetics such as creams, face wash, toners and many more. They are great exfoliators (removes dead cells) and increase blood flow to the skin which helps in:

  • Reducing wrinkles
  • Soothing the skin
  • Reducing the appearance of fine lines
  • Improving skin texture
  • Overall beautification of the skin
  • Regeneration of dead tissues
  • Reducing uneven pigmentation and acne
  • Treating sun damage

Alpha hydroxy acids are also used to treat extremely dry skin when this condition develops in pregnant women. (Please check with your doctor or dermatologist if in case you are pregnant before applying AHAs containing results to avoid reverse results)

How does Alpha Hydroxy Acid work?

The main benefits of AHAs are as below:

  • Exfoliate the skin.
  • Effectively remove the top layer of skin and help new skin to grow.
  • Reduce wrinkles, make skin smoother and can help uneven and pigmented skin become smoother and evener.

It is also believed that alpha hydroxy acids also stimulate the growth of elastin and collagen which get exhausted with age.

People who have a very sensitive skin might have reverse results using alpha hydroxy acids. AHAs work best for most people in a concentration of 5% to 7%, which is found in most products that contain the AHAs.


AHA peels are used for a mild effect on the skin. It removes outer layers of the skin and the skin will appear softer than before after treatment. However, for better results, re-treatments on a regular basis are required.

AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) vs. BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids):

Values of AHA’s:

  • Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Improve skin tone and texture
  • Re-energize the appearance of dull and lifeless skin

Values of BHA’s:

  • Balance the oil content on your skin
  • Treat acne
  • Remove blackheads and whiteheads.

Application of AHA:

  • For treating skin wrinkles and sunburns

Alpha hydroxy acid products contain lactic acid, tartaric acid and glycolic acid and 8% concentration is used. The alpha hydroxy acid has also been used in a 14% solution.

(Dosage: You can use the lotion which has AHA which the above-mentioned concentration twice in a day.)

  • For lightening acne scars

Glycolic acid facial peels are used in the lightening of acne scars.

(Dosage: Peels are applied the first day for 2 minutes and then you can use it for a longer time (max 5 minutes). You can also use lotion which contains glycolic acid. After 6 times application, you feel your skin looking better than before.)

  • For lightening brown patches

This peeling program is to be done for 3 months in a row.

(Dosage: Use 10% of the glycolic acid mixed with a sunscreen to facial skin in the night for 2 weeks. 50% GA peel is to be applied three times to the face and leave it on for a period of 2-5 minutes each time. Stay with the first peel on the face for 2 minutes, second peel for 4 minutes and third for 5 minutes.)

What are Significance of AHAs in Acne Treatment:

Acne occurs when the skin produces too much oil which leads to the clogging of the pores. AHAs do not help sebaceous glands to stop producing oil from the skin but it regenerates the top layer of the skin and peels off the dead skin cells and unclog the pores. Once the top dead skin layer peels off, new and clear skin forms.

AHAs work great with the combination of benzoyl peroxide to prevent pimples to form. First, one will feel irritation on a particular spot where AHA has been applied, but it will stop the pimple there to grow.

Guidelines of Usage:

When you use an AHAs product, your skin becomes more endangered to damage from the sun. It is highly recommended to use a high-quality sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun.

Side Effects of Alpha Hydroxy Acids:

  • Skin irritation
  • Redness
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Skin Discoloration

If the symptoms continue after you stop using the product for some time, try using a product that contains less of the AHA concentration. In case if it still occurs, contact the doctor.

If you have a dark complexion skin, consult your doctor before using an AHA or BHA. People with dark skin are at a higher risk for scarring and pigmentation than those who have pale complexions.

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Jessica is a writer who lives in Queens, NY. She spends most of her time listening to One Direction, watching TV, and hanging out with her one-eyed cat, Rigby.