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Glycolic Acid Benefits: Should it Be in Your Skincare Routine?
Ever wake up, look at your skin, and feel like it needs a good exfoliation? Exfoliating our skin can help get rid of dead skin cells, acne, and even hyperpigmentation, making our complexion look brighter and fresher overall.
If you’re looking for safe, tried-and-tested ways to brighten your skin, look no further than glycolic acid. This sugar cane-derived exfoliant can clear away dead skin cells, soothe acne-prone skin, and stimulate collagen production.
In this blog, we talk about this popular chemical exfoliant and whether you should add it to your skincare routine or not. Let’s get into it!
What is Glycolic Acid?
Glycolic acid is what’s known in the skincare world as a chemical exfoliant. When applied to the skin, it removes the “glue” between the outermost layer of dead skin and the newer, healthier skin beneath it. That way, it helps remove dust and dirt sitting on your face to reveal brighter skin.
Additionally, glycolic acid comes in many different forms. You’ll find it in chemical peels that combine different AHAs and BHAs. It is also present in products like a glycolic acid cleanser, glycolic acid cream, and glycolic acid peels.
What is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid?
To get a little technical, glycolic acid is a type of alpha and hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs are naturally-derived chemical exfoliators that you’ll find in things like fruit, or in the case of glycolic acid, sugar cane. Some specific examples of AHAs are lactic acid from milk, tartaric acid derived from grapes, and citric acid which is found in citrus fruits. Lactic acid is one of the milder ones, but glycolic acid is safe to use for many skin types.
Also, AHAs work their magic in the dermis, which is the middle layer of our skin. Since they work pretty deep underneath our skin’s surface, they can help with common skin care problems like wrinkles, fine lines, and sunspots.
Can You Tell Me the Effect Of Glycolic Acid On Skin?
Glycolic acid works by exfoliating your skin cells on a deeper level, sloughing off dead skin cells from deep within your pores. Glycolic acid helps disintegrate the bonds that hold dead skin cells together.
By adding glycolic acid to your skincare regimen, you can get multiple benefits. If you’re still unsure if you should add this to your routine, we’ll help you decide!
Among the things glycolic acid can do for your skin are:
- Help it shed dead skin cells by speeding up skin cell turnover
- Anti-aging effects
- Give you healthy skin
- Soothe acne-prone skin
- Improve skin tone
- Reduce the appearance of acne scars
- Lighten hyperpigmented spots
- Remove or reduce fine lines and wrinkles
- Alleviate visible sun damage
- Even out skin tone
- Act as a non-irritating exfoliant (good for someone with a dry or sensitive skin type)
How Does Glycolic Acid Remove Dead Skin Cells?
Aside from treating acne, the most prominent glycolic acid benefit is its ability to slough off dead skin cells. Since GA is a relatively small compound, it can go deep within our pores and dissolve the bonds that keep the dirt on our skin. It also helps speed up cell turnover, bringing newer and fresher skin to the surface.
Benefits vs. Side Effects
While glycolic acid has amazing benefits, it also has negative potential side effects.
It’s important that you don’t use this every day – unless absolutely necessary. Why? The regular or over-frequent use of glycolic acid, especially when your skin hasn’t built up tolerance yet, can make it too sensitive. This can lead your skin to experience redness, irritation, dryness, and sun damage. So, how should you use glycolic acid?
Like all AHAs, a glycolic acid product must be gradually introduced into one’s skincare routine. You can start by applying it once a week and observing the results. After two weeks, you can then upgrade to twice a week, then eventually every other day if needed.
Skin experts also caution against using glycolic acid if you have active acne, such as hormonal or cystic acne as chemical exfoliation might do more harm than good. If you’re unsure about how to get smoother skin otherwise, it’s good to seek help from your dermatologist or aesthetician. They might be able to recommend suitable professional treatments.
With that in mind, many professionals say it’s better to apply glycolic acid at night rather than in the morning. This is to reduce the risk of sun damage as alpha hydroxy acids can photo-sensitize your skin.
However, other experts like Lab Muffin say glycolic acid can give you sun-sensitive skin no matter what time of day you apply it. Bottom line, you should always wear sunscreen anyway – but especially so when you’re using glycolic acid.
Is Glycolic Acid Good For All Skin Types?
If you’re someone who has highly sensitive skin, you might be wondering if a glycolic acid peel – or any alpha hydroxy acid, for that matter – is going to be too strong for you. But don’t worry, because glycolic acid is safe to use as long as you’re not overdoing it.
Of course, dry and sensitive skin types are going to become more easily irritated and dried out by glycolic acid. But if it’s super effective for, say, your acne, then you can balance out the dryness of glycolic acid with a hydrating moisturizer.
Skin specialist Alix Shapiro from Heydey NYC told Glamour Magazine that glycolic acid is “best for normal, combination, and oily skin types.” So if you’re any of the three – then glycolic acid might help with your skin problems.
How To Apply Glycolic Acid
Applying a glycolic acid product to your face is a straightforward process, but there are a few differences that depend on the specific glycolic acid products you’re using.
The most popular form of glycolic acid might be glycolic acid peel therapy. Carl Thornfeldt, MD, tells Byrdie magazine: “A peel is any compound put on the skin to increase epidermal cell proliferation and remove stratum corneum and plugs within pores.”
Since a glycolic acid peel is essentially glycolic acid that isn’t diluted with other ingredients, it’s probably the strongest in terms of concentration. It’s also super effective in transforming your skin’s overall appearance and health.
After cleansing your face, all you have to do is take a small amount of your product and apply it to your face using a cotton swab. Wait a few minutes then apply your moisturizer.
As long as you’re using glycolic acid safely, you can treat acne scarring, dark spots, dull skin tone, and similar skin conditions. Aside from offering an acne treatment, adding glycolic acid to your skincare routine also gives it anti-aging benefits.
Can You Use Glycolic Acid With Retinol?
Glycolic acid toners and retinol both reduce signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. They can also be pretty strong and can cause dryness or irritation, which is why many people don’t like using them together.
However, there’s no hard set rule that states you cannot use retinoic acid and chemical exfoliants on fresh skin. They don’t react negatively with each other nor do they cancel each other out.
But over-exfoliating your skin can be a real issue. Both glycolic acid and retinol have the ability to dry out and irritate your skin when not applied properly, especially if your skin absorbs natural acids quickly or if you have dry skin.
The good news is, you can still get away with applying glycolic acid and your retinols in the same skincare regimen! To avoid any unwanted effects, you can try using the products 30 minutes apart during your skincare routine or during different times of the day.
Also, make sure you follow up with a super moisturizing product afterwards. We recommend the really good stuff, like a hyaluronic acid serum which has some incredible benefits of its own.
Can You Combine Glycolic Acid Peel With Other Anti-Acne Treatments?
If you’re new to the world of chemical peels, but not acne treatments, you might have asked yourself, “Does glycolic acid work with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide?”
Firstly, while BP is the gold standard for treating acne, using it in conjunction with an AHA can cause overexfoliation. We wouldn’t want that!
However, glycolic acid works well with a beta hydroxy acid like salicylic acid. That said, many skincare enthusiasts still recommend rotating them at different days of the week.
In summary, if your skin concerns are related to fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots, excess oil, or dull skin, then you can use glycolic acid products to address them.
It’s good to note that a glycolic acid treatment works best for those who don’t have super dry skin. If you use glycolic acid when you have dehydrated, you may experience skin irritation.
That said, as long as it’s the right glycolic acid concentration, this natural acid can work its magic on any skin type.
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Joey is an AB Psychology graduate of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod. Her life’s passions include writing, film, and spending hours on end binge-watching fashion vloggers on Youtube.