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Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA's): Do they belong in Natural Skin Care Products

Posted Jan 26 2009 2:42pm

What exactly are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA's) and What do AHA's do?


Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s) are Fruit acids, which are weak organic acids derived from various sources such as, grapes, apples, sugar cane, maple, pineapple, papaya, willow bark, lemon, lime, sour milk, blackberries, yoghurt and cider, and play an important role in skin care.


Fruit acids are natural exfoliants that perform a number of functions at the level of the stratum corneum on the skin's surface. They loosen and dissolve dead cells from the skin's surface and help to regenerate new skin cells, aid in the control of acne, smooth rough dry skin, improve the texture of sun-damaged and aging skin and retain moisture which leaves your skin healthy and vibrant.


Using an exfoliant is one of the most important steps in skin care - I would go as far as saying it is the most important. If you think about it, what is the point of using a good moisturiser on your dead skin cells? None, right? So, using a facial clay once or twice a week and / or using a mild natural exfoliating gel is a great investment in your skin and your skin's health.

Useful links to product information:
      Skin Renewal Gel - gentle exfoliating gel
      Earth Medicine Facial Clay - come in either Mask or Gel types

Exfoliant - Red Earth Facial ClayExfoliant - Skin Renewal Gel


That is basically a good thing, but as usual, many companies are using concentrated extracts, or worse still, synthetically manufactured AHA’s or BHA’s (beta hydroxy acids), and that is not a good thing. Excessive concentration, or rather out-of-balance ingredients in skin care is definately to be avoided and I would not consider this type of products to be 'natural'. Yes, they may be natural extracts and added to a cream or lotion in concentrated form, thus arguably they are natural, but that is not what 'natural' skin care is about.


When scientists, pharmacists or chemists comes across a ‘new substance’, so to speak, they have a tendency to want to make it better than nature’s version… more concentrated for quicker, immediate results… and so on. Unfortunately, this usually brings with it side effects and sometimes actual physical damage.


A natural ingredient – just what exactly does that mean? Does it mean it is a substance that nature created and it has been added to a product in order to make that product natural? No, a natural ingredient is an ingredient that is, where ever possible, present in it’s natural, preferably wholistic form, for example AHA’s can be extracted and then added to a product, thereby the maker of that product can claim it contains ‘Natural ingredients’. Or the AHA’s can be used in a product in the form of an extract of Papaya with all the other ingredients present in Papaya fruit. This is a more balanced set of ingredients which work together to achieve a desired effect, thus it is a truly natural ingredient.


Many people do not react well to AHA's in skin care, and this is usually due to the fact that these women use skin care that have concentrates of AHA's in them, not the fruit extract in it's wholistic form. Many Woman come to us with irritated skin, saying '...but I use this natural skin care product...', when looking at it more closely we generally find that either a synthetic or natural extract/concentrate was used - the result: Irritated skin.


One of the best sources of AHA's is found in papaya fruit. When used in a cream such as the Papaya Day Creme, you will soon see the old layers (not dead yet) peal off - this is what is supposed to happen and there is no need for alarm. On the contrary, this is what you want to happen and shows you that the products is working on renewing your skin!!!

Papaya Day Creme is used by individuals with dry & mature Skin type.
If you have dry and sensitive Skin, then use the Rose Day Creme
For an oily skin types Avocado Day Creme is your product of choice.
Useful links to product information
      Natural Skin Care Systems - for a complete skin care approach for your specific skin types

AHA containing moisturising cream


Let me illustrate: Aspirin (a very commonly used pain killer) is derived from the bark of the White Willow Tree. The substance or the active ingredient is called Salicylic acid, a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA). This is the stuff that reduces pain. It is also the stuff that can cause Stomach ulcers….


Now, the herbal extract of the White Willow Bark does not (or is much less likely to) cause Stomach ulcers. Why? because the herbal extract contains many other ingredients that are contained in the bark, which the extraction process brings out. Some of these substances are mucilaginous (Porridge is mucilaginous, or 'slimy') which means they are slippery and when taken internally, they cover the membrane of the Stomach (the lining) and prevent the salicylic acid from causing ulceration – clever, isn’t she, that Mother Nature woman?


Sometimes you will hear these additional ingredients referred to as “phyto-chemicals”. This is a very current topic today with respect to Vitamins and other ‘natural’ supplements. The term 'phyto' refers to plant, so what they are actually saying is plant chemicals.


Should AHA's be in your natural skin care products?


     What does all this have to do with natural skin care? Well, as I have written before. Natural skin care is not necessarily natural and one could debate back and forth what ‘natural’ is, or what it should be. One thing is certain, natural skin care products should not contain any ‘un-natural’ ingredients, be they synthetically produced or in ‘purified / isolated / concentrated form’. Natural should be as close as possible to the way it is found in nature.

     That is not to say one should not use Vitamin E as a principal ingredient in a cream, but it should not be of a synthetically derived form. Wheat germ oil, for example, is very high in Vitamin E and contains many other phyto-chemicals, which are nourishing to the skin.

     At Wildcrafted Herbal Products we choose to define natural as ‘the way nature created it’, so we prefer not to use isolated natural ingredients. Instead, we choose to use traditional plant extracts, essential oils, carrier oils, hydrosols and other natural ingredients according to Naturopathic and herbal medicine principles, which preserve the integrity of the plant or relevant plant parts.


    AHA's are a good ingredient to be included in natural skin care products, as long as the AHA's are still in their original content, ie: as part of a fruit hydrosol for example. That way, the ingredients in the fruit (other than the AHA's) will buffer the acidic effect of the AHA's and thus your skin is far less likely to be irritated or have an adverse reaction to the product.

     We hope this clarifies some of the confusion which is propagated in the media and provides you with information you can use when next looking at ingredients on natural skin care products.


Danny Siegenthaler is a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and together with his wife Susan, a medical herbalist and Aromatherapist, they have created Natural Skin Care Products by Wildcrafted Herbal Products to share their 40 years of combined expertise with you.

They practice Herbal and Chinese medicine at their Wildcrafted Cottage Clinic.

© Wildcrafted Herbal Products 2008

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