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by Harvey M. Fishman


The following is from the September 1993 issue of HAPPI Magazine

The newest thing in skin care products is alpha hydroxy acids. Nearly every consumer magazine these days has at least a few advertisements for products containing AHA, which are typically promoted as "helping accelerate skin repair and reduce the signs of aging" or as "a super breed of moisturizer to combat the visible signs of aging." There's no doubt that AHA is the hottest thing in skin care these days and the relatively high cost of products containing it-averaging about $30.00 an ounce but running up to as much as $125.00 an ounce-apparently isn't dampening the enthusiasm of consumers. New products boasting AHA seem to hit the market every month. The active ingredients in AHA are "fruit" acids such as: - Citric (CH2COOHC(OH)(COOH)CH2COOH H2O) - Glycolic (CH2OH COOH) - Lactic (CH3CHOH COOH) - Tartaric (COOH(CHOH)2COOH) Citric acid is derived from mold fermentation of carbohydrates and from fruits such as lemon, lime and pineapple juice. Glycolic acid (hydroxyacetic acid) occurs naturally in sugar cane syrup. Lactic acid is derived from starch, milk whey, and molasses. Tartaric acid is a by-product of grape fermentation in the production of wine. Although they can all be found in fruit, tartaric, lactic and glycolic acids may also be synthetically derived. Dermatologists have used these acids for years as treatments for very dry skin and eczema (chronic dermatitis) at concentrations of 12% or more. The acids slough off dead skin cells, giving the skin a smoother, tighter feel and improved appearance. Dermatologist Nelson Novick, in his book "Super Skin" (Clarkson Porter, $13.00) points out that "our wealth of experience with these acids is in higher concentration that we use in the office for very dry skin. We only found serendipitously that they had other effects, such as diminution of wrinkles, thinning out of liver spots, adding a healthy glow."

Another Approach: Although fruit acids are currently enjoying enormous popularity in the cosmetic lab and among consumers eager to improve their appearance, they are not the only approach to removing dead skin cells. In fact, salicylic acid, a keratolytic (skin peeling) agent has been used for centuries to treat acne, and still occupies an important place in cosmetics. Salicylic acid is an attractive material because its use is not limited to its role in treatment of acne, and still occupies an important place in cosmetics. It has also be used to treat other skin disorders, such as cradle cap, psoriasis, warts and dandruff. The adsorption rate of salicylic acid is low, so that frequent use of it should cause no harm. It is typically used a 2% in acne preparations, at 2-3% in dandruff and psoriasis products and at 5-17% to treat warts. Using alpha hydroxy acids in cosmetics can mean the product is applied two or three times a day. Since AHA products have only recently entered the marketplace, the long term effects of daily applications are still unknown. They should be investigated.

Harvey M. Fishman has consulting firm at 34 Chicsaw Drive, Oakland, NJ 07436, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product. He has 25 years experience in hair and skin care products and has been director of research at Fonat, Nestle LeMur and Turner Hill.



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