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Dr. Vikram Chauhan - MD (Ayurveda)

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

AHAs and their Significance in Skin Care

AHA are acid molecules that can be plant based or animal based. They are used as ingredients of beauty, hair and skin care products especially meant for damage repair and anti aging. They are used in the manufacture of toners, creams, masks, lotions, etc. and also as medicated ointments meant for use only by prescription. AHAs can be very effective if used correctly. This article explains what AHAs are, how they work and why they are used, and what natural foods and facial application products can be used in place of the chemical laden beauty products, so as to avoid the side effects.

AHA, Alpha Hydroxy Acids


AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acids. The AHAs occur naturally in fruits and some animal products. AHAs are used extensively in beauty and skincare products because of their many beneficial effects on human skin, the most popular of which is the anti-aging property of AHAs. The following sources are currently used for the extraction of AHAs:

  • Milk: milk contains lactose
  • Pickled foods
  • Grapes
  • Apples, Pears
  • Honeycombs
  • Sugarcane
  • Citrus Fruits
  • Animal tissues


The use of AHA as ingredients in skincare products is very broad. The glycolic acid along with lactic acid are mostly used and are the safest forms of AHA available as they have been used quite widely and no side effects have been observed or reported. They also maintain the natural suppleness of the skin and reduce irritation. They are not known to cause any irritation. This is the reason why most AHA containing products that are available for purchase without prescription, are based out of either lactic acid or glycolic acid. The AHAs are included in beauty and cosmetic products because they can have the following effects on the skin:

  • They help remove the upper dead layer of skin cells.
  • Improve the blood circulation in the area
  • Improve elasticity and strengthen collagen fibers
  • Prevent breaking of smooth fine facial muscles
  • Reduce pigmentation
  • Prevent discoloration
  • Prevent pimples and acne
  • Improve texture and smoothen the surface
  • Decrease the fine lines and wrinkles
  • Decrease sagging
  • Improve absorption and perspiration via the skin


Since AHAs are mostly extracted from fruits and food products, you can prepare your own fresh face masks full of AHAs, naturally with ingredients available at your home. These masks can be used to exfoliate i.e. remove dead skin cells, cleanse the pores, and improve the texture of the skin by promoting the exposure of new skin.

1. Citrus AHA Mask

Lemons, oranges, grapefruits, etc. are all rich in citric acid.  Not only the consumption of these citric fruits is beneficial for the body in many ways, the citric acid present in them is very effective in reducing the pigmentation i.e. dark colored spots and patches, and also the spots left after acne has occurred.

Mix well 2 tbsp milk with minimum 6 % fat with 1 tbsp of freshly squeezed juice of lemon, orange, tangerine or grapefruit. Leave the mixture for some time. Next, apply this paste liberally on the neck and the face, leaving the eyes. Keep it for half an hour, and then rinse with lukewarm water. Even if your skin is oily, avoid using soap or face wash. Pat dry and if required, use a moisturizer.

2. Sugar Honey AHA Mask

Raw, unprocessed sugar contains some of the glycolic acid content naturally occurring in sugarcane. Glycolic acid possesses excellent exfoliating properties, making it a common ingredient in scrubs and face washes. It is effective in removing the top layer of skin cells thus reducing the scars and marks that occurred because of the top layer of the skin being damaged. Crush 2 tbsp raw sugar in a pestle mortar. Try to use the most unprocessed and raw sugar you can get. Mix in it 2 tbsp naturally extracted honey and 1 tsp lemon juice. Apply the mix on your face and neck but avoid the eyes. Leave for 2-3 minutes only and wash off with lukewarm water.

3. Apple AHA Mask

Apples contain malic acid which is one of the major AHAs. The malic acid content is further boosted when vinegar is prepared with apples. It absorbs excess oil and mixture from the pores and deepest cavities in the skin, thus absorbing sebum, dead cells and dirt. You will need the most raw and unprocessed apple cider vinegar you can get. Take one tbsp of it and dab on your face using a cotton swab. Take care not to apply too close to the eyes. It may feel tingling or pinching on your skin as it dries up. When it dries completely, remove it by rubbing or with a wet wipe.

4. Tartaric AHA Mask

Tartaric acid is probably the softest on the skin therefore most suitable for sensitive skin. It is found in grapes, thus wine and champagne are excellent sources of tartaric AHAs. Mix 75 ml of champagne with fuller's earth and apply it on your face and neck. Leave it on for around 15-20 minutes and then rinse gently.

5. Lactic AHA Mask

Lactic acid is most commonly found in milk, yogurt, curds, etc. Some lactic acid is also found in grapefruits. People with dry skin can greatly benefit from lactic acid face masks since such masks can also balance excess dryness and replenish lost oils and nutrients from the skin. Lactic acid is also very mild and safe for application on even sensitive skin types. You can apply yogurt regularly on your face every three days. To prepare a natural face wash, mix 2 tsp fuller earth with 2 tbsp beaten curd or yogurt, and add in 2-3 tsp of grapefruit juice. Apply on the face and neck, and if you want to add a scrubbing effect to it add a tsp of sugar. Massage gently for two minutes and then wash off with lukewarm water. Use this face mask once a week.


Although AHAs are not extremely harmful for any skin type, every person's skin is different and may react with a substance in different ways. Some people may experience the following side effects upon their first use of AHA based products:

  • Minimal discomfort
  • Burning sensation
  • Itching and irritation
  • Warmth over the applied area
  • Eczema
  • Very small blisters

However, the side effects shall resolve on their own within a few days as the skin gets habitual of the product. You should apply ice on the affected area and avoid exposing skin to direct sun. You should not apply on skin that you have recently waxed or shaved, or skin that has new cuts or burns. Also, if you already suffer from eczema, psoriasis or any other inflammation of the skin, you should avoid using these products without proper guidance from a dermatologist. Pregnant and lactating women should also not use it.


AHA products are quite popular amongst the skin care and beauty experts’ right now because of the many benefits they offer, but it should be understood that these are strong and aren’t recommended for usage without guidance or recommendation. However, upon consultation with an expert, you can recommend the best suitable AHA products for your skin and hair type. A dermatologist can provide the best advice regarding this. Care should also be taken while buying products as all brands do not produce standardized formulations. AHA products are great for skin exfoliation and are available as creams, serums, toners, gels, face and hair masks, and peel- off type creams.

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