Alpha and beta hydroxy acids are derived from apples, ginger, oranges, grapefruit, sugarcane or willow bark, and will gradually peel off the top layers of dead skin and minimize wrinkles.

Doctors say that the inevitable wrinkles as a result of genetics and gravity, and, well, aging skin, shouldn’t arrive until you, near your sixties. But, sadly, they come a lot earlier  –  in the late twenties and thirties  –  for many of us. Here are some of the reasons why: During the 1920s, French designer Coco Chanel came back from the tropics bronzed and glowing. Thus began the search, among the fashion-conscious, for the perfect tan, and a new tradition of sunburns and tanning booths, as well as skin cancer and early wrinkles, was started.

Some lines will form on our face around our mouths and eyes simply because we express emotion with a smile or a worried frown. The way you sleep can leave a wrinkle memory in your skin, too, especially if you sleep mostly face down.

But what can you do if you already have years of wrinkle-promoting habits behind you? Can the damage be undone? Yes it can! You can remove most of the set-in wrinkles, or minimize their appearance, with the help of alpha hydroxy, including glycolic acid, and beta hydroxy products.

Natural alpha and beta hydroxy acids are derived from apples, ginger, oranges, grapefruit, sugarcane, or willow bark, and will gradually peel off the top layers of dead skin.

Hydroxy acids

The Alpha’s: One of the alpha hydroxy acids found in cane sugar, sugar beets and unripe grapes, glycolic acid, is an odorless, crystalline compound used to control the acid/alkali balance and also as an exfoliant, It works easily into the skin to break up, and remove, bonds of dead skin cells.

It has been said that loosening, or ungluing, these bonds stimulates the body’s built-in dead-cell elimination, or sloughing off, process, making way for new skin cells to emerge and for fine lines to be smoothed over. The use of these alpha hydroxy acids has also been shown to reduce skin discoloration and to even out pigmentation.

The “hydroxys” have also been shown to help those with oily and acne-plagued skin, since dead skin cells are no longer able to clump up around hair follicles and compromise the natural drainage of the oil-secreting (sebaceous) glands.

Citric acid is another hydroxy powerhouse, one extracted from citrus fruits. These fruits are rich in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, including rutin, which are said to strengthen the small capillaries that provide nourishment to the skin.

According to Reverse the Aging Process of Your Face, the Spanish noble, the Duchess of Alba, would “apply the pulp of an orange [on her face] and leave it on for twenty minutes, like a mask.” Not knowing why it worked, it was most probably because of the vitamin C, a known skin antioxidant and defexider against skin damage.

Lactic acid is another alpha hydroxy, one which comes, in fact, from sour milk. Believe it, or not, but Cleopatra used to bathe in sour milk, and to scrape off dirt and excess oil with a special tool.

If you think this is interesting, how about this: in ancient Rome, women would remove the sludge from wine barrels, and apply this sludge to their faces as a sort of inebriated skin pack. It was said to have worked!

In the 19th century, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary would mix lemons, roses, violets, and peppermint leaves in a mineral-rich Hungarian spring. She also used a wine facial treatment, one enriched by an herbal infusion. Not knowing it, of course, but Elizabeth was making use of tartaric acid, another of the alpha hydroxy’s. Other hydroxy acids used include malic acid (taken from apples and bilberries), pyruvic acid and gluconic acid.

The Beta’s. Salicylic, benzoic and buteric acids  –  all beta hydroxy acids  –  are also reported to be excellent exfoliators, and are often combined with alpha hydroxy acids for their synergistic, complementary activities.

Over time, proper use of these compounds will make crow’s feet and fine wrinkles less visible. Some of the most popular lotions on the natural products market contain glycolic acid, which has small molecules that are easy for the skin to absorb. Low-concentration hydoroxy acids are also available at the cosmetics counter of your local natural products store in cleansers and moisturizers.

Since natural acids, as gentle as they are, are, of course, acidic, science looked for a way to buffer this acidity. Chamomile is said to be an excellent buffer. In fact, a November 6, 1995 study by M. Podgia, a researcher in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California-Berkeley, found that “chamomile extract-containing products have anti-inflammatory activities in vitro and in vivo.” Chamomile is also known to stimulate and nourish the skin, a perfect complement to any moisturization program.

As you may know, moisturizers do not add moisture to the skin, but they do help your skin retain the water you’ve left on your face and body after washing. If you leave your skin a little damp and apply an hydroxy-acid-containing moisturizer, this will help the product absorb into the pores and sink deeper into your skin.

Some studies show that hydroxy acids can increase cell turnover in sun-damaged skin, smoothing and firming its texture.

If sun damage has visibly etched your skin, sleep with a night cream containing hydroxy acids. These night creams are usually a bit heavier than the daytime lotions.

Nighttime is also the time to use these heavier creams on the eyes. These products are also good for holding in moisture, particularly while you sleep.

Here are some guidelines to follow when choosing hydroxy acid products:

* If you have sensitive or fair skin, or are prone to broken blood vessels, these products may irritate your skin more than it does for others with less sensitive skin. The product you do buy should be labeled “for sensitive skin,” with a lower percentage of hydroxy acids (4 to 6 percent).

* Products made with glycolic acid are more effective at exfoliating, sloughing off dead cells to renew skin, while those made with lactic acid are more moisturizing.

* Creams moisturize best, followed by lotions. Use gels for oily skin because they’re water-based; but, since they contain fewer oils, your makeup may not adhere as well to your face as with a lotion or a cream.

* At first apply products at bedtime: Wash face with a mild cleanser, wait five minutes, and put a pea-size amount on fingertips; use to cover your entire face. After a few weeks, you can slowly increase to twice a day (morning and evening).

If even a sensitive-skin formula seems too strong, blend a dot of the formula with a dot of hypoallergenic moisturizer. Try applying it to small areas at first.