AHAs action mechanism is not fully known, however the most widely accepted theory is that AHAs remove calcium ions from epidermal cell adhesions by chelation. 

This results in loosing up the "glue" that keeps dead cells attached causing the shedding dead and very dry cells. The reduced calcium levels also promote further cell growth while slowing cell differentiation -- meaning the appearance of wrinkles is lessen making the skin look younger. AHAs has also been shown to promote collagen and hyaluronic acid production improving plumpness and hydration of the skin. (8, 9)

In general, people tend to see  greater effects using chemical exfoliation, as the results are longer lasting since they work on the deeper layers of the skin and user error on physical exfoliation is common. 

Extensive clinical studies have proven alpha hydroxyl acids to be an effective anti-aging compound.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) are some of the most broadly used and researched anti-aging skincare compounds. Extensive clinical trials have proven alpha hydroxyl acids to be effective at reversing the effects of photo-aging and improving skin tone and texture in many ways (1, 2, 3, 4, 7).

The key ones include:

  • Exfoliation:  While the mechanisms by which AHAs produce these effects is not fully clarified, the most widely accepted theory is that AHAs remove calcium ions from epidermal cell adhesions by chelation (8). This results in weakening of the intercellular adhesions which has an exfoliating effect by causing the shedding and flaking of dead and dry cells yielding softer skin, lightening of age spots, decreased blemishes and better texture (1, 4).
  • Wrinkle Reduction: AHAs have been found to increase epidermal proliferation and collagen production leading to smoother skin and faded wrinkles. Both in vivo and in vitro, AHA glycolic acid treatment increased the production of collagen and fibroblast proliferation. These effects may be the mechanism by which glycolic acid reverses the process of photoaging (2, 3).
  • Hydration: Due to the water attraction of their hydroxy groups, AHAs increase water retention in deeper layers of the skin restoring hydration (3) resulting in plumper skin with better texture (1, 11). In addition, AHAs, particularly glycolic acid, have been shown to improve barrier function (12). This makes AHAs ideal for sensitive skin when use smartly.

Glycolic acid is the smallest at AHA compounds, extracted from sugar. As such it penetrates the fastest into the skin layers. Lactic acid has also been proven to provide similar benefits ((as shown below (4) (10)) but with slower penetration. We use it in combination with glycolic acid to extend their benefits.

AHA are also less inflammatory than retinol (2).

Dual Effect:

Studies have shown (5) that at high concentrations (>10%), AHAs can increase photo-damage through a synergistic effect with UV radiation. Studies have shown that Glycolic acid has a photo-protective effect at low concentrations 10% or less (7).  

We use a low concentration approach proven to have significant net benefits for most skin types including sensitive skins (4). We combined low AHAs concentration with other exfoliants that rely on different mechanisms to maximize benefits while minimizing adverse effects.

However, everyone should use caution when using products with AHAs. We do not recommend products containing AHAs for highly sensitive skins – meaning skins that have highly harsh skin reactions to many products, burnt easily from sun exposure and/or are otherwise photosensitive should only use poly hydroxy acids (PHAs) because PHAs do not present irritation.   

Because every skin is unique, always always conduct a patch test before using any skincare products. 

Clinical Study: Glycolic and Lactic Acid (8% Treatment) 

Appearance Improvement After 22 Weeks of Treatment on Photo-damage Skin


  1. Self assessment   
  2. Two degrees improvement on medical assessment of severity of damage