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Table of Contents
- What Is Glycolic Acid?
- Benefits Of Glycolic Acid For Skin.
- How To Use Glycolic Acid.
- Side Effect Of Glycolic Acid.
- The Best Products With Glycolic Acid.
- Possible Questions & Answers.
Of all AHAs, glycolic acid is the most popularly used, and you can find them in so may over-the-counter products such as lotions, creams, serums, peels, cleansers and toners. This content gives a deep dive of everything you need to know about glycolic acid for skin, keep reading to learn more.
What Is Glycolic Acid?
Glycolic acid is an AHA family (alpha hydroxy acids). It’s the most common and widely used skin exfoliating acid, it’s derived from sugar plant. Glycolic acid is known for its small molecular size in weight which enables it to penetrate deeper into the skin to eradicate dead skin cells and dissolve sebum. According to Kenneth Howe, M.D., a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City “Of all the AHAs, glycolic is the simplest in structure and the smallest; it has the lowest molecular weight”. That small molecular weight means “it’s easy for it to penetrate your skin and be super effective,” says Alix Shapiro, skin therapist at Heyday in NYC.
Benefits Of Glycolic Acid For Skin.
Reduces Wrinkles & Fine Lines.
Because of its skin-exfoliating and skin-renewing potentials, it is often used in anti-aging products. It can help smoothen fine lines, wrinkles and improve the skin’s tone and texture, as it stimulates collagen production, accelerate cell turnover and regeneration, thereby refining the skin texture making it look firmer, plumper and smoother. These research studies [1, 2] justifies the fact.
It Fades Hyperpigmentations.
As a skin exfoliator, glycolic acid fades hyperpigmentation and skin discoloration by sloughing off the dead skin cells at the top layer of the skin, thereby encouraging the departure of dead skin cells with melanin which in turn addresses minor hyperpigmentation issues such as dark spots, acne scars and melasma. A research study validates the fact.
Helps Boost Hydration.
Just like lactic acid helps hydrate the skin and hold unto moisture, glycolic acid helps boost skin hydration levels. Studies also show that glycolic acid significantly increases skin’s hydration. It does this by helping skin make substances like mucopolysaccharides, which help skin stay hydrated by increasing its natural content of hyaluronic acid, which in turn enhances skin’s resilience.
It Brightens The Skin.
Using glycolic acid regularly can help brighten the complexion. When the dead skin cells are being gently stripped off, a fresher, healthier and more brighter skin reveals, which improves your overall skin tone.
It Exfoliates The Skin.
Glycolic acid is an exfoliant, it has small molecular size which enables it penetrate easily to exfoliates both skin surface and beneath. It helps shed dead skin cells and reveal the newer, brighter layers underneath. 
Minimizes Large Pores.
If you’re struggling with visible large-pores especially if you have an oily skin, then glycolic acid can come to your rescue. Alpha hydroxy acids in general (which includes glycolic acid) can have a retexturizing effect on the skin. Using products that contain these ingredients can help to reduce the appearance of enlarged pores by helping to sweep away dead skin cells, oil and other debris that has built up inside pores and on the skin’s surface.
In one study, 22 Japanese women applied a 30% concentration glycolic acid solution every 2 weeks for a total of 5 treatments. More than 70% of participants saw improvement in enlarged facial pores. Specifically, visible pores were improved by 34.6%, open pores by 11%, and dark pores by 34.3%. Another study found improvement in facial pores by 28.3% with a 40% glycolic acid and vitamin C formulation.
Glycolic acid can help reduce pesky blackheads, whiteheads and acne breakouts scattered all over your face, due to its mild exfoliating and acidic nature, when applied on the skin — glycolic acid weaken the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together, penetrates deeply into the skin to decongest the pores from pore-clogging impurities and oil build-up, thereby encouraging the healing of acne and also preventing future occurrence. A clinical research study carried out on Asian skin proved that, glycolic acid had better responses for noninflammatory lesions than for inflammatory lesions, with sebum levels significantly reduced.
How To Use Glycolic Acid.
You should decide between using glycolic acid as a cleanser or as a toner every day, because they both have lower concentrations that are meant for daily use, then add a glycolic acid mask weekly. This will give you the full benefits of the acid while being safe for your skin. You should note that glycolic acid is a powerful ingredient and should be introduced into skincare routines slowly, you can start up by using it every other day till your skin builds tolerance to the acid before considering of using it everyday.
Caution: Don’t forget to wear your sunscreen during the day to protect your skin from the sun as glycolic acid can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun which may lead to sunburn — if the skin isn’t sufficiently protected.
Note: limit glycolic acid use at night-time only, as using during the day increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun which may risk sun burn. Also endeavor to use sunscreen during the day (after using lactic acid at night).
Side Effect Of Glycolic Acid.
The usage of glycolic acid may be accompanied with some side effects. If you’re new to glycolic acid, note that it’s important to monitor how your skin reacts. Experiencing sensitivity or redness may be an indication that you should reduce the concentration of glycolic acid (Note: 10% should be the maximum for at-home glycolic treatments). If you feel the need to use higher glycolic acid concentration, consult your board-certified dermatologist for proper guidance and direction.
Those with sensitive skin are not recommended to use glycolic acid; instead, go for a gentler alternative like lactic acid.
The Best Products With Glycolic Acid.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum.
A serum loved by all (including beauty editors & dermatologists). This formula is infused with a blend of 12 percent AHA & BHA—including glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric and salicylic Acid—that work together to eliminate pore-clogging dead skin cells, fade dark spots, smoothen wrinkles, fine lines and improve overall skin texture and complexion.
Murad Vitamin C Glycolic Brightening Serum.
A formula that unites glycolic acid with a stabilized form of vitamin C. While glycolic acid does its mild exfoliating and pore-decongesting job, vitamin C helps fight free radicals, subdue excess melanin production, thereby addressing hyperpigmentation issue, which in turn improves skin tone for the better. A combination of these two fantastic ingredient will tackle texture irregularities and brighten up the skin.
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution.
A skin toning solution from The Ordinary brand, that contains 7% glycolic acid, in combination with other skin-soothing and hydrating ingredients like rosa damascena flower water, aloe barbadensis leaf water and tasmanian pepperberry derivative to restrain irritations and Inflammation associated with acids use. Read full review here.
Herbivore Prism 12% AHA + 3% BHA Exfoliating Glow Serum.
Here’s another AHA & BHA powerhouse serum, combining the likes of lactic, glycolic, malic and salicylic acid in one formula, to curb excessive melanin production, address hyperpigmentation, minimize large pores, smoothen wrinkles and fine lines, sloughs off dead skin cells and get rid of acne.
First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Resurfacing Liquid 10% AHA.
A skin exfoliating and resurfacing liquid with blend of 4 alpha hydroxy acids at 10% concentration — glycolic, lactic, tartaric and malic acid to help skin appear smoother, brighter, healthier and firmer. This potent, yet non-irritating leave-on skin resurfacer also contains other skin fascinating brightening ingredients — licorice root, mulberry root and lemon peel extracts — to muscle up the skin brightening effect.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel.
This peel pads are filled with a blend of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid to give your skin a packed punch of exfoliation and refinement, sloughing away even the most stubborn dead skin cells and dirt from your pores. They’re also gentle enough to use daily. All you have to do is, sweep a pad over your clean, dry face and neck till the pad is dry, (don’t rinse) continue with your additional skincare topicals.
L’Oréal Paris Revitalift 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum.
If you rather prefer a formula with just glycolic acid — without the inclusion of other AHAs — then this is your best pick. Infused with 10% pure glycolic acid to sweep off dead skin cells, address texture irregularities, decongest the pores of build-up and brightens complexion. Glycolic acid is paired with aloe vera, to help soothe and hydrate the skin, curbing irritation associated with acid use, all thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
InstaNatural Glycolic Acid Serum.
An 8% glycolic acid serum to revatilize and refine your skin. This formula merges glycolic acid with vitamin C to amplify the product efficacy as vitamin C suppresses excess melanin, fights skin-aging signs, and ward-off external free radicals. It also contains other skin hydrating and soothing ingredient (hyaluronic acid & argan oil) to curtail irritation associated with acid use and prevents the skin from drying out while glycolic acid does its magic.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel.
An 8% AHA formula in a gel form that unites glycolic acid with skin-soothing plant extracts and antioxidants not only to give your skin a reformed and refined looks but also replenish the skin of lost moisture and soothes the skin of Inflammation, all thanks hyaluronic acid, aloe vera juice, green tea extract and matricaria flower extract. Simply saturate your cotton pad with this leave-on gentle exfoliator and sweep across your cleansed face and neck.
Cane + Austin Miracle Pad 30% Glycolic Facial Treatment.
If by any means you prefer your glycolic-exfoliating formula in wipes, then here’s the best-pick. A 30% glycolic exfoliating peel in wipes, not only does it contain glycolic, but other AHAs & BHA (lactic acid salicylic acid and tartaric acid) in addition with skin hydrating and soothing cucumber juice to curb inflammatory irritation. Comes with a pad for treatment application. Saturate your cotton pad, swipe over face in circular motion after cleansing.
Possible Questions & Answers.
Q: Who should use glycolic acid?
A: In general, any one struggling with textured skin (texture irregularities) wrinkles, fine lines with acne-prone skin or blackheads.
Q: Can a pregnant or nursing mother use glycolic acid?
A: Topical applications of glycolic acid in the form of lotions, creams, cleansers, peels and toners with a concentration of 10% is absolutely safe to use during pregnancy or breastfeeding as only a minimal amount is being absorbed by the skin. This research study authenticates the fact.
Q: Is glycolic acid recommended for sensitive skin?
A: No. Glycolic acid is much stronger and may irritate sensitive skin, therefore people with sensitive should opt for lactic acid, which is more gentle and mild on the skin. If you have skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, you should talk with your dermatologist about your options. He or she may recommend using a different active ingredient for your problem areas, or starting with other AHAs instead.