Do Alpha-Hydroxy Acids Accelerate Aging?

Anti-wrinkle creams may soon be getting a face-lift.

The European Commission, the administrative arm of the European Union, is considering tough new limits on anti-wrinkle creams containing ingredients known as alpha-hydroxy acids, or AHAs, because scientists say the creams may actually cause skin to age more rapidly.

The commission is deciding whether to impose a formal limit on the amount of AHAs it will permit in skin creams and is considering making it compulsory for any product containing the acids to carry warning labels.

Found in many anti-aging products, AHAs, also known as fruit acids, claim to “exfoliate” or rejuvenate skin by peeling off the outer layers to reveal the fresher skin beneath.

They promise to smooth fine lines and surface wrinkles, to improve skin texture and tone, to unblock and cleanse pores, to improve oily skin or acne, and to improve skin condition in general.

But European and U.S. scientists are finding the chemicals may actually cause long-term damage instead.

This week, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products made available a number of studies, including research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about this issue. Calls to the FDA regarding AHAs in products in the United States were not immediately returned.

Save Your Cells

The EC committee found that the chemicals appear to increase the number of skin cells that are damaged, stimulate reddening, blistering and burning and put users at greater risk of ultraviolet damage from the sun.

Dr. Nick Lowe, a dermatologist, says the problem stems from consumer misuse or abuse.

“Improper use, too frequent use and use by those with sensitive skin, this is where you see the damage,” he says. “Products using AHAs should be administered in a clinic.”

Products with AHAs are marketed as a “natural” way to rejuvenate skin. They are called acid peels, fruit peels, anti-aging exfoliates and any number of other names.

The commission is welcoming comment from interested parties, such as cosmetics companies and other medical groups, before it makes a decision next month.

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