AHAs and sun exposure: An inconvenient truth

Dr. Dennis Gross Glow Pads contain glycolic acid, an AHA that increases sensitivity to UV radiation. So why do they belong in Sephora's Sun Safety Kit 2018?

Out of all the products included in the Sephora Sun Safety Kit 2018, the one that perplexed me the most was Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pads. These self-tanning towelettes contain glycolic acid and lactic acid, two alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), which increase your skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation. That sounds like the opposite of safety to me. I guess maybe Sephora assumes that you’ll use this product in conjunction with one of the other sunscreens included in the kit? Still, I feel a bit confused as to why it’s included in the first place. Couldn’t they have replaced it with a self-tanner that didn’t have AHAs in it?

aha sun exposure danger dr. dennis gross alpha beta glow pad

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pads ingredients

The FDA recommends (but doesn’t require?) products that contain AHAs to include the following “Sunburn Alert” message:

Wow, this alert recommends being vigilant about using sunscreen and limiting sun exposure for a full week after using this product. That’s pretty crazy.

In the past, my dad has also warned me to be careful about applying sunscreen whenever using an alpha-hydroxy acid, even if you’re only planning to be outside for a little while:

According to the FDA, cosmetics should be safe if they’re <=10% AHA concentration, the product has a pH of 3.5 or higher, and “The final product is formulated in such a way that it protects the skin from increased sun sensitivity or its package directions tell consumers to use daily protection from the sun.” This product appears to be complying with the last requirement, as it gives a warning that it is not a sunscreen and does not provide any protection against UV radiation. It does not, however, say anything about potentially increasing your risk of UV sensitivity.

Here’s a study that supported the idea that even short-term application of glycolic acid could make the skin more sensitive to UV radiation.

Remember to apply sunscreen after using AHAs

Why does this self-tanning product include alpha-hydroxy acids? The packaging says that the AHAs help provide an exfoliating benefit. This product also includes other beneficial ingredients like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), and sodium hyaluronate. But the instructions don’t say when to apply sunscreen…before or after you apply this self tanner?

Unfortunately, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pads seem to be primarily focused on providing a non-orangey glow (something you probably won’t get if you slather on enough sunscreen, like you’re supposed to). But I think the packaging could be a bit more diligent about clarifying how important it is to protect yourself from increased photosensitivity while using this product.

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