Effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on the human skin of Japanese subjects: the rationale for chemical peeling

J Dermatol. 2006 Jan;33(1):16-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1346-8138.2006.00003.x.


Alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) agents, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, have been used as therapeutic agents for more than a quarter of a century. Recently, they have been used as agents to rejuvenate photo-aged skin. It is believed that these AHA agents induce the epidermis to remodel and accelerate desquamation, thus exerting their therapeutic effects. In this study, we investigated the histological differences in skin treated with glycolic, lactic, citric and acetic acids once daily for 6 weeks. The melanin pigments in the basal layer were less prominent in the glycolic and lactic acid-treated skin than in the citric and acetic acid-treated skin. The melanin deposits in the horny layers were equal for all AHA. However, the melanin deposits in the squamous layers were less prominent in the glycolic and lactic acid-treated skins than in the citric and acetic acid-treated skins; this was analogous to observations of the basal layers. Collagen I and procollagen I were increased after treatment with glycolic, lactic and citric acid in the upper dermis, but were not increased with acetic acid treatment. However, the staining of the epidermis and dermis for matrix metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1) after treatment was not significantly different among the agents. Our data suggest that longer treatment intervals with glycolic and lactic acid can cause improvements in both the epidermal and dermal components and support the usefulness of AHA for rejuvenating photo-damaged skin.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Acetic Acid / pharmacology
  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Adult
  • Chemexfoliation
  • Citric Acid / administration & dosage
  • Citric Acid / pharmacology
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Glycolates / administration & dosage
  • Glycolates / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydroxy Acids / administration & dosage
  • Hydroxy Acids / pharmacology*
  • Keratolytic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Keratolytic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Lactic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Lactic Acid / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 1 / drug effects
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin Aging


  • Glycolates
  • Hydroxy Acids
  • Keratolytic Agents
  • glycolic acid
  • Citric Acid
  • Lactic Acid
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 1
  • Acetic Acid