What is a Beta Hydroxy Acid?

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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2019
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Beta hydroxy acid is not a single substance; instead, it is a term used to describe a family of organic acids. These organic compounds may either be naturally occurring or synthetic. In their natural chemical state, beta hydroxy acids are found in the body, in fruits, and in the bark of the willow tree.

Scientists have been able to synthesize the acids in laboratories. Synthetic versions have proven to be as effective as the natural forms and are used in an array of medicines and commercial products. The beta hydroxy acid family consists of salicylic acid, carnitine, beta-hydroxybutyric acid, 3-hydroxypropionic acid, and beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate acid.

Salicylic acid is the most well-known beta hydroxy acid and the only one used in dermatology. Derived from aspirin, it is widely used in both cosmetics and skin care products. For decades, salicylic acid has functioned as the main ingredient in acne treatment medicines. Since beta hydroxy acids are oil soluble, they are able to penetrate beneath the skin into the pores. Due to this, beta hydroxy acid is an effective ingredient in modern anti-aging products and skin cleansers.


Carnitine is biosynthesized from amino acids in the body. It is used during the metabolic process that breaks down fats. Outside of the body, carnitine is found in high concentrations in dairy products and red meat. As a supplement, this beta hydroxy acid is mainly used to treat heart-related conditions and symptoms of kidney disease. Carnitine is also marketed as a weight-loss supplement, although its effectiveness in helping dieters has yet to be determined.

Made in the liver, beta-hydroxybutyric acid is used as a source of energy by the brain when blood glucose levels are low. Industries use the synthetically developed form of this acid, which is produced by bacteria, as part of the manufacturing process in making biodegradable plastics. Another beta hydroxy acid, 3-hydroxypropionic acid (3-HP), is also produced in the body, but has been synthesized in laboratories by using microbes. It is an important component in the industrial production of specialty chemicals such as polyesters.

Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate acid (HMB) has a long name and a major role in health. HMB is formed naturally in the body during the breakdown of an amino acid. Plants such as alfalfa and animals such as catfish also contain HMB. Scientific studies have established its ability to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. It has become a popular bodybuilding dietary supplement.


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