Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs are naturally occurring acids derived from plant source such as sugar cane, apples and citrus fruit. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are two of the most common AHA’s found in skin care products. AHA containing facial skincare products have become increasingly popular as in-home treatments and facials are convenient and accessible. AHA containing products have exfoliant properties which loosen dead skin cells on the skin surface so skin stays bright.
Other benefits of AHA products include skin lightening to reduce hyperpigmentation from sun damage by inhibiting melanin formation. Many AHA products also boast wrinkle reduction, as the acids remove the damaged skin layer on the top surface, which then reveals the healthier skin underneath.
Cosmetic products containing AHA in Canada will not be permitted to make therapeutic claims and must contain certain warning statements on the product labels. Products with greater than 3% total AHA’s are required to include certain risk statements on their packages, which is a requirement of the Consumer Product Safety division of Health Canada.
Products containing up to 10% total AHAs are designated as consumer use products, and those products with greater than 10% total AHA are considered professional use products. This is based on the fact that AHA use is associated with several side effects that should be taken into consideration before use. Redness, swelling and itching can occur with AHA products so it’s recommended to first test it on a small area of skin before applying to the whole area to be treated. And of course contact with the eyes and mucous membranes should be avoided at all times.
One of the most important side effects of AHA products is their tendency to increase sensitivity to the sun and potential for sunburn. Health Canada therefore requires cautionary statements for products containing 3%-10% AHAs which remind the user to apply a sunburn protectant during the use of the AHA product, and even up to one week afterwards.