Use of Nonprescription Alpha-Hydroxy Acids

W. Steven Pray, Ph.D., R.Ph.


US Pharmacist. 2002;27(5) 

In This Article

What Are Alpha-Hydroxy Acids?

Alpha-hydroxy acids are a group of weak organic acids that vary in the number of carbon molecules they contain. All have a hydroxyl group attached to the alpha carbon (the carbon adjacent to the acid group).[1] The shortest-chain AHA is glycolic acid, which has two carbons.[2] Lactic acid has three carbons. These two chemicals are inexpensive, and are the two most commonly used AHAs. Consumers may also discover the presence of AHAs by reading labels and looking for the following terms: malic acid, citric acid, tartaric acids, alpha-hydroxy (ethanoic, octanoic, or caprylic) acid, mixed fruit acid, triple fruit acid, sugar cane extract, and any ingredient that includes the words "alpha-hydroxy" (e.g., tri-alpha-hydroxy fruit acids).[3]


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