Skin Care :: Wrinkles and Alpha Hydroxy Acid n Home Exfoliation

One of the basic methods for improving skin and eliminating small wrinkles is exfoliation (also called resurfacing), which is the removal of the top layer of skin to allow regrowth for new skin. Methods for doing this run from simple scrubs to special creams to intensive peeling treatments, including laser resurfacing. [See What Are Professional Resurfacing Procedures for Skin Wrinkles?] People with darker skin are at particularly higher risk for scarring or discoloration with the more powerful exfoliation methods.

Abrasive Scrubs. Scrub gently with a mildly abrasive material and a soap that contains salicylic acid to remove old skin so that new skin can grow. The motion should be perpendicular to the wrinkles. Use textured material or cleansing grains with microbeads. Organic materials, such as loofahs or sea sponges may harbor bacteria. Avoid cleansing grains that contain pulverized walnut shells and apricot seeds, which can lacerate skin on a microscopic level. Cleansing grains with microbeads don’t have sharp edges and remove skin without cutting it. Exfoliation using scrubs, however, can worsen certain conditions, such as acne, sensitive skin, or broken blood vessels.

Topical Alpha Hydroxy Acid and Similar Substances. Alpha hydroxy acids facilitate the shedding of dead skin cells and may even stimulate the production of collagen and elastin. They are found naturally as follows:

Lactic acid (milk).

Glycolic acid (sugar cane).

Malic acid (found in apples and pears).

Citric acid (oranges and lemons).

Tartaric acids (grapes).

Lactic and glycolic acids are used most often in commercial products. The preparations containing lactic acid may be slightly more effective than those made with glycolic acid. Products have also been developed that are made from larger molecules called poly-alpha-hydroxy acids and others from beta-hydroxy acids or BHAs (usually containing salicylate acid, the primary ingredient in aspirin). Manufacturers claim that such products are less likely to irritate the skin.

Acid concentrations in over-the-counter AHA preparations are 2% to 10%. One clinical study suggested that 8% concentrations showed modest improvement. Some examples include Avon’s Anew Intensive Treatment (8% glycolic), Pond’s Age Defying Complex (8%), Elizabeth Arden’s Alpha-Ceramid Intensive Skin Treatment (3% to 7.5%), and BioMedic’s home product (10%). Prescription strength creams contain at least 12% glycolic acid, and glycolic acid peels of 30% to 70% concentration may be administered in a doctor’s office at weekly or monthly intervals.

Response to AHA varies, and the treatment is not without risk, particularly in high-concentration products. Side effects from over-the-counter creams, prescription products, and professional AHA peels can include burns, itching, pain, and possibly scarring. Studies also suggest that AHA may increase sun damage, even at concentrations as low as 4%. Experts advise that people should purchase products with AHA concentrations of 10% or less. If any adverse effects occur, the product should be stopped immediately. In all cases, people are advised to avoid sunlight or use proper sun protection when using them.

Experts are further concerned because part of the wrinkle-reducing effects of alpha hydroxy involves calcium loss, which in turn may promote cell growth and impair differentiation. Theoretically, this might increase the risk for skin cancer. There is no evidence of this at all, but more research is warranted on long-term effects of AHA.

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