The effects of topically applied glycolic acid and salicylic acid on ultraviolet radiation-induced erythema, DNA damage and sunburn cell formation in human skin



      α-Hydroxy acids (αHAs) are reported to reduce signs of aging in the skin and are widely used cosmetic ingredients. Several studies suggest that αHA can increase the sensitivity of skin to ultraviolet radiation. More recently, β-hydroxy acids (βHAs), or combinations of αHA and βHA have also been incorporated into antiaging skin care products. Concerns have also arisen about increased sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation following use of skin care products containing β-HA.


      To determine whether topical treatment with glycolic acid, a representative αHA, or with salicylic acid, a βHA, modifies the short-term effects of solar simulated radiation (SSR) in human skin.


      Fourteen subjects participated in this study. Three of the four test sites on the mid-back of each subject were treated daily Monday–Friday, for a total of 3.5 weeks, with glycolic acid (10%), salicylic acid (2%), or vehicle (control). The fourth site received no treatment. After the last treatment, each site was exposed to SSR, and shave biopsies from all four sites were obtained. The endpoints evaluated in this study were erythema (assessed visually and instrumentally), DNA damage and sunburn cell formation.


      Treatment with glycolic acid resulted in increased sensitivity of human skin to SSR, measured as an increase in erythema, DNA damage and sunburn cell formation. Salicylic acid did not produce significant changes in any of these biomarkers.


      Short-term topical application of glycolic acid in a cosmetic formulation increased the sensitivity of human skin to SSR, while a comparable treatment with salicylic acid did not.


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