Esthetician's Guide to Alpha Hydroxy Acids

This condition appears in the ASCP SkinPro app


A family of naturally occurring acids used extensively in skin care products, primarily as exfoliation agents. They vary in molecular size, and include glycolic, lactic, malic, mandelic, and tartaric acids. Although alpha hydroxy acids are found in many fruits and plants, most are produced synthetically for use in skin care preparations to ensure safety and consistency. Can be incorporated into many types of skin care products, but are probably the most effective in serum form.


  • As exfoliation agents, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) break bonds between dead cells in the epidermis; as the dead cells shed from the skin, cell renewal is promoted. This results in natural production of intercellular lipids that hold water in the skin and reinforce and improve the barrier lipids that form the barrier function of the skin.
  • AHA’s efficacy and irritancy levels are governed by concentration and pH level. The ideal concentration for home-use products, such as AHA serums, is 8%–10% and the ideal pH is 3.5

Treatment Considerations

  • Sunscreens should be applied regularly whenever alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are used.
  • Have many uses in skin care and can address aging and sun-damaged skin, acne and clogged (congested) oily skin, oily skin with large pores, hyperpigmentation and splotchy pigment, and dry and dehydrated skin.
  • Can be used to treat keratosis pilaris, as well as callouses and rough, dry body skin.
  • The ideal concentration for professional use chemical peels is 30% with a pH no lower than 3.0. Physicians use higher concentrations with lower pH for medical peels. These high-level peels can produce physical peeling and inflammation that need physician supervision.

ASCP Members can access SkinPro to continue reading about Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Not yet a member? Join today to access SkinPro and all of the member resources we have to offer!

ASCP SkinPro

The must-have app for estheticians!

Designed to aid in skin analysis by putting the essential knowledge of  contraindications and best practices for skin-related conditions and ingredients at your fingertips, ASCP SkinPro is an exciting new app for estheticians at every stage of their career, now included for free—exclusively to ASCP members! 

Try ASCP SkinPro


Please note: We have recently updated our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Learn more...