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How Do I Choose the Best Alpha Hydroxy Cream?

Tartaric acid is most often found in grapes.
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  • Written By: R. Dhillon
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 13 August 2014
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Alpha hydroxy cream is used to combat the signs of aging, including age spots and fine lines, as well as to reduce acne and fade dark spots on the skin, such as hyperpigmentation because of scarring. The active ingredient in these creams is alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which might be listed as glycolic, lactic, malic, citric or tartaric acid. These AHAs are chemical exfoliants that remove dead skin cells and stimulate the growth of smoother skin cells. Drugstores, dermatologists, medical aesthetics clinics and spas offer a wide range of alpha hydroxy creams, making it difficult to select the right cream for your skin type. If you look at the AHA concentration in each cream, read reviews and scientific studies, obtain samples and ask a dermatologist for advice, you can find the right alpha hydroxy cream for your needs.

The effectiveness of an alpha hydroxy cream depends on its AHA concentration. Creams sold over the counter typically use low concentrations, whereas alpha hydroxy creams sold by dermatologists and in medical aesthetics clinics typically use higher concentrations. A cream that has an AHA concentration below 8 percent might not provide noticeable results, even with extended use, and a 15 percent concentration might provide modest improvements with daily use after several weeks or months. An alpha hydroxy cream that has a concentration of 25 percent or higher might provide significant improvements but be used only under the supervision of a dermatologist or medical aesthetics nurse.

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Although the inactive ingredients in an alpha hydroxy cream might not contribute to its anti-aging or acne-fighting abilities, they can provide other necessary benefits. If you are planning on wearing the cream during the day, you should use a product that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. AHAs increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun, so it is important to wear the proper protection. Additionally, a cream that has a high AHA concentration might temporarily cause your skin to look flaky and dry because it sloughs off dead skin cells. Choosing a product that contains moisturizing ingredients, such as melon seed oil or shea butter, can counteract dryness.

In general, you do not want to be one of the first people to try an alpha hydroxy cream, whether it is for your face or your body. Choose products that have been on the market for at least a year. The cream also should have mostly positive reviews from users. Additionally, you should read scientific studies on the efficacy of those creams. If you cannot find scientific studies on a cream, read studies on each of the cream's active ingredients.

If you do not want to spend a lot of money on an expensive alpha hydroxy cream without trying it first, ask the manufacturer to provide you with a sample. To properly assess the cream, use it daily for at least three weeks. If the cream causes irritation, such as redness or dryness, use it once a day or every other day until your skin gets used to it. Within three to six weeks, you should notice minor improvements, such as smoother skin. If you don't notice any improvements, the cream might not be right for you.

Finding the right cream can be especially difficult if you have sensitive skin or allergies to common ingredients in skin care products. If you fall into either of those categories or if you have tried numerous alpha hydroxy creams without improving your skin, talk to a dermatologist. During your consultation, tell the dermatologist about the products that you have tried and their effects, so that he or she can recommend the right creams and skin care routine for you.

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