According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), alpha hydroxy acid, made from fruit acids, exfoliates the skin by sloughing off dead skin cells. The level of exfoliation depends on the amount of alpha hydroxy acid in the product as well as other ingredients it is paired with. The FDA has recorded a number of harmful side effects from alpha hydroxy. Furthermore, alpha hydroxy should not be used by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding because the effects on the baby are not known.
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When alpha hydroxy is applied to the skin, many people experience a heightened sensitivity to the sun. According to the FDA, after continued use of products containing the chemicals, some people experience as high as 18 percent greater sensitivity to ultra violet rays. Cellular structural damage to the skin from the sun increases as much as 50 percent. Manufacturers usually recommend heavy sunscreen when using products with alpha hydroxy ingredients to avoid excessive burning, as mandated by the FDA. After discontinuing the use of alpha hydroxy, sun sensitivity does return to normal levels.
High concentrations of alpha hydroxy acid can cause redness and burning. Most prescription-strength creams start at about 8 percent and over-the-counter products typically contain about 3 percent. Products sold as skin peelers can contain as high as a 40 percent concentration of the acids. People with sensitive skin or those prone to rosacea may have a lower tolerance to the burning acids of alpha hydroxy acids, report doctors at Derma Doctor. On the other hand, people with tougher, oilier skin do not have as many problems. Additionally, products that include buffered acids also can reduce the amount of redness and burning. Left on for too long, alpha hydroxy can cause severe burns, which is why patients are encouraged to use the stronger potions only under a doctor's supervision.
Inflammation and Scarring
Under varying circumstances, other side effects that can occur from alpha hydroxy use include inflammation of the skin and scarring. After the chemical peels remove the dead layer of skin, the risk of infection increases and can cause inflammation. Skin that doesn't grow back healthy can leave scarring from where the acid removed the top layer of skin. Facial herpes infections, or cold sores, can increase in those prone to the breakouts. Changes in the skin pigment also can occur.