Use of Nonprescription Alpha-Hydroxy Acids

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


US Pharmacist. 2002;27(5) 

In This Article

Adverse Effects

As of a 1999 report, the FDA had received more than 100 adverse reaction reports, including severe erythema, inflammation (especially around the eyes), burning, blistering, bleeding, rash, pruritus, and skin discoloration. The agency also estimates that for every adverse reaction report that reaches them, 50 to 100 are reported to the manufacturer instead. Therefore, the actual number of adverse AHA-related events may be as high as 10,000.[6]

AHAs also increase sensitivity to the sun by removing the upper, protective stratum corneum. A study sponsored by the cosmetics industry demonstrated that users of 4% glycolic acid required 13% to 50% less UV radiation to reach a standard minimal redness. If this finding can be extrapolated to encompass the general population, there are tens of thousands of AHA users who now have an enhanced risk of skin cancer and, ironically, sun-induced skin aging.

The cosmetics industry recommended that AHA products should not exceed a concentration of 10%, and should have a pH of 3.5 or greater. They further suggested that all AHA products either include an ingredient to protect against photosensitivity or warn the patient to use sunscreens.[6]


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