Alpha Hydroxy Acids: Do they belong in natural skin care products?
What are they?
How are they useful to our skin?
Are they a natural ingredient in skin care?
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:
Loosen and dissolve dead cells from the skin's surface
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.
Naturally contained AHA's are basically a good thing, unfortunately, 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.
When scientists 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 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 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 use 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 that work together (synergistically) to achieve a desired effect, thus it is a truly natural ingredient.
Let me give you an example: 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 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) 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 irritation or ulceration - clever, isn't she, that Mother Nature woman?
Sometimes you will hear these additional ingredients referred to as "phyto-chemicals". This is very current topic today with respect to Vitamins and other 'natural' supplements.
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 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 ingredients from plant extracts, essential oils, carrier oils and other extraction processes according to Naturopathic principles, which preserve the integrity of the plant or relevant plant parts.
I hope this clarifies some of the confusion that is propagated in the media about AHA's and provides you with information you can use when next looking at ingredients on natural skin care products .