Glycolic Acid: Game-Changing Skincare Ingredient Or Overhyped?

Glycolic acid is another one of those “miracle ingredients” the skincare industry keeps pushing on us. The promise of a brighter, more radiant complexion has seen the reportedly potent ingredient appear in many cult-favorite skincare products.

From claims that it will re-texturize dull, uneven, and even acne-prone skin to reversing signs of aging, is there anything that Glycolic Acid can’t do? Let’s explore everything to know about this versatile and dermatologist approved ingredient.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

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Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) like malic and lactic acids. According to Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist and co-creator of Dr. Loretta Skincare, glycolic acid is one of the most common and well researched AHAs on the market. One of its main functions is exfoliation as it is able to separate dead skin cells from each other.

“Chemically, it’s a really nice, small molecule, which means when you put it on the skin, it can penetrate pretty readily,”

says Loretta Ciraldo.

Benefits Of Glycolic Acid

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Its exfoliating properties help remove dead skin cells to reveal newer, brighter, and smoother layers underneath. Glycolic acid works on the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin).

“Normal, intact stratum corneum consists of tightly packed layers of dead skin cells that are tightly bonded together. Glycolic acid loosens these bonds.”

says Dr. Howe.
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The @hannahejo edit.

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Dr. Melda Isaac, a board-certified dermatologist based in Washington, D.C., went on to reveal that glycolic has the ability to enter the hair follicles. This allows it to loosen up any built-up sebum and proteins that lead to blackheads and breakouts.

As glycolic acid has a small molecule it is able to penetrate deeper into the skin, it is able to stimulate fibroblasts thus increasing collagen production. This makes skin appear firmer and minimizes fine lines and wrinkles.

Glycolic Acid VS Salicylic Acid

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We've noticed that many of you are loving our AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, and while we're really happy that you're enjoying it, we want to ensure that you're playing safely. ⁣🩸⁣ ⁣⁣ When beginning to use Direct Acids: 1) Patch test! 2) Don't use them with other direct acids, retinoids or pure Vitamin C 3) Make sure you're avoiding unprotected solar exposure always and using acids in the evenings only, ideally, 4) Don't apply acids to peeling, compromised, sensitive or broken skin and 5) Follow the directions on the packaging/website. ⁣ ⁣ The Ordinary's AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is a 10-minute exfoliating facial for experienced users of Direct Acids. It offers efficient chemical exfoliation of the skin to target dullness and textural irregularities, with the aim of improving visible skin radiance with continued use. This formula also incorporates a Tasmanian pepperberry derivative to help reduce signs of irritation associated with acid use. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Due to the high concentration of free acids, we would not recommend using this formula on sensitive, compromised or peeling skin. ⁣‼️⁣ ⁣⁣ While exfoliating acids can result in quick visible benefits, we generally suggest indirect forms of skin exfoliation in favour of direct forms due to the potential inflammation and sensitivity associated with acid use. Please refer to NIOD's Non-Acid Acid Precursor as an option for indirect exfoliation. ❤️

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Glycolic acid is a water-soluble AHA that naturally occurs in sugar cane, sugar beets, and pineapples. As explained the alpha-hydroxy acids loosens the glue that holds skin cells together to aid exfoliation of the topmost layers of dead skin and encourage cell turnover. It is used regularly to treat and reduce scars, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles.

On the other hand, salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that can be naturally derived or biosynthesized from the bark of the willow tree. BHAs are oil-soluble and penetrate deeper than the surface of the skin. This is used to treat excess oil and dead skin trapped in the pores.

Who Should Use Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic Acid is used specifically for those who have wrinkles, hyper-pigmentation, and acne-prone skin. However, it is a great exfoliator for most skin types.

“It’s best for normal, combination, and oily skin types,”

says Alix Shapiro, skin therapist at Heyday in NYC.

How To Use Glycolic Acid

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It looks like a toner. It feels like a toner. But let's get one thing settled—The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is not your average toner. Yes, this is confusing, but we are here to help. 😉⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Most traditional toners contain ingredients that work to cleanse and refresh the skin. Beyond simple astringent benefits, Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution deviates from traditional toning methods due to the inclusion of 7% glycolic acid. The simplest alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), Glycolic Acid helps exfoliate the top-most layer of skin, revealing radiant skin, while offering visible clarity. Our formulation also includes Tasmanian Pepperberry, ginseng root, and aloe vera to offer comforting benefits to the skin. Additionally, the formula incorporates various amino acids to assist with barrier support. ✨⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ We recommend use ideally in the PM, no more frequently than once per day. After cleaning your face, saturate a cotton pad with the Toning Solution and sweep across the face and neck. Avoid the eye contour and contact with eyes. No rinse off is needed. Continue with additional skin treatments as you prefer! Please kindly note that since Glycolic Acid is part of the Direct Acid family, it is not so friendly with products that contain peptides or EUK 134. ⁣ ⁣ We also recommend avoiding the use of retinoids alongside direct acids if you are an inexperienced user of either. Remember to use sun protection and wear protective clothing as AHAs may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. 🔆⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ (CA$8.70/US$8.70/AU$14.50/£6.80/€8.70)

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Glycolic acid can be found in everything from cleansers and serums to moisturizers. If you have sensitive skin it is recommended to start with a low percentage and slowly increase the dosage when you feel your skin can tolerate it.

Do not use formulas with more than 10 percent concentrations at home. While the higher percentage seems like a good idea as it may penetrate deeper, it can also cause chemical burns.

AHA increases skin sensitivity to the sun. When using glycolic acid in your routine ensure you are using an effective sunscreen.

Ingredients That Don’t Go Well With It

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This depends on how resilient your skin is. If you struggled to build up a tolerance to harsher exfoliants like retinol, it will not layer well with glycolic acid and may result in irritation.

However, glycolic acid can be beneficial with gentler exfoliators like salicylic acid. Many acne-fighting treatments like the Cane + Austin Acne Retexture Pad 5% Glycolic Acid and 2% Salicylic Acid ($60) combine the two. However, if you have extremely sensitive skin be wary.

Possible Side Effects Of Glycolic Acid

Skin irritation or burns are common side effects of stronger concentrations of glycolic acid. Those with dry and very sensitive skin usually show irritation from glycolic acid.

However, in general is one of the safer exfoliants on the market. Dermatologists even offer glycolic acid peels to pregnant women. If you do feel a reaction coming, do not panic. Simply wash your face.

“Glycolic acid is immediately neutralized upon contact with water,”

says Dr. Howe.

Written By:
Njeri Muriithi

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