What Is Glycolic Acid Exactly and What Does It Do?
Glycolic acid is a powerhouse ingredient in the cosmetics world. It’s no surprise you can find it in a huge variety of skincare products.
The benefits it can give to your skin can be game-changing. It can tackle dullness, hyperpigmentation, minimize pores, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and other age-related skin concerns.
It’s also very effective for breakouts. If you have acne-prone skin, by using products that contain this miraculous ingredient you’ll no longer need to feel self-conscious. Your skin can look beautiful and radiant without any makeup on.
Glycolic acid is an amazing anti-ageing ingredient that seems to do it all. But before you start scavenging for glycolic acid products, there are just a few things to consider first.
Read on to find out if it’s the right treatment for your skin, its extensive benefits, and how you can add it to your skincare routine.
What is Glycolic Acid?
Glycolic acid is a carbon-containing molecule that belongs to the alpha-hydroxy acid family (AHA) and it’s derived from sugar cane. It’s the most popular, commonly used ingredient in cosmetics and the most studied. Some other AHAs you might recognize are lactic acid, tartaric acid, and citrus acid.
This odourless chemical exfoliant can dissolve the bonds between used-up skin cells, making them easy to slough off and reveal the smooth, younger skin underneath.
It’s also the smallest AHA which makes it the most effective for exfoliating the skin. Compared to other types of AHAs it can easily penetrate deeply into the skin and provide a smoother, glowing, youthful complexion.
What Does Glycolic Acid Do?
Glycolic acid acts primarily as an exfoliant, shedding dead skin cells from the stratum corneum (the top layer of the skin). It does this by loosing the bonds between the keratinocytes that are tightly connected together on the skin’s outer layers. By dissolving their glue, glycolic acid makes it easy to remove those rough layers of used-up skin cells through exfoliation. This way it speeds up cell turnover, bringing newer, fresher cells to the surface.
Because glycolic acid is such a small molecule, it has the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin. And so, it can stimulate fibroblasts in the dermis (the inner layer of the skin) to boost collagen production. This can make your skin feel tighter, have more flexibility, and minimize fine lines and wrinkles.
Studies have also shown that this exfoliant acid has antioxidant and antibacterial properties. This helps reduce acne breakouts and significantly improve your skin’s appearance.
Glycolic acid can also reduce dryness as it helps keep moisture inside the skin. With all its amazing qualities, this ingredient can enhance skin brightening, make it even-toned, and much smoother.
Extensive Benefits of Glycolic Acid
1. Reduces Acne
Acne is formed when dead skin cells are trapped within our pores. By separating the connection between dead skin cells, glycolic acid helps reduce breakouts, blackheads, and acne cysts.
2. Has Anti-aging Properties
Glycolic acid can reduce fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating healthy collagen production. Collagen is the protein-rich fibre in the dermis; it’s what makes our skin feel smooth, plump, and firm. But collagen stores slowly get depleted so we need to give our skin a boost with this miraculous ingredient.
3. Visibly Brightens Skin
As we age, our natural skin cell cycle gradually slows down which causes used-up skin cells to accumulate. This can make our skin look dry and dull. Glycolic acid makes the exfoliation process easy by removing those old skin cells and bringing forth the fresher ones. This makes the skin visibly brighter, fades dark spots, and evens out skin tone and texture.
4. Reduces Hyperpigmentation
Hyperpigmentation is the discolouring of our skin which appears as a result of age spots, acne scars, and sun damage. Glycolic acid helps get rid of this excess pigment that gets accumulated in the dead skin cells, on the outer layer of our skin.
5. Makes the Absorption of Other Products Easier
In addition to all its other amazing benefits, glycolic acid also improves the effectiveness of other products by enhancing their absorption into your skin. It does this by removing used-up skin cells from the outer layer of your skin, making it easier for your moisturizer to hydrate the younger skin cells underneath.
Is Glycolic Acid Ideal For Your Skin Type?
The great thing about glycolic acid is that it can be applied to almost any skin type. But if you happen to have very dry or sensitive skin or rosacea then it’s best to avoid using it because any form of this exfoliant acid might irritate you.
It works best for people who have normal, combination, and oily skin types. Basically, if your skin has natural oil production then that’s great.
There also seem to be some concerns about applying glycolic acid on darker skin tones, but it’s generally safe to use. Still, there might be some risk of pigmentation if the product’s formula has too high a concentration of this chemical exfoliant.
How to Use Glycolic Acid for Optimal Results?
Now that you know a lot more about this powerful skincare ingredient, you’re probably wondering how often you can use it in your routine. It really depends on your skin type, your age, and how often your skin can tolerate it.
If you’re not sure how your skin would react to glycolic acid, you could try doing a test patch. If it gets irritated or it’s peeling when you apply the skincare product then it’s best to avoid it.
Start by incorporating your product — whether it’s a face wash, lotion, peel, or serum — into your skincare routine three times a week. Also, it helps to pair it with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid.
If you’re seeing desired results, keep applying it with the same frequency. If you want to boost its benefits a little more, after one or two weeks you can start using it every night.
Keep in mind that it’s best to use glycolic acid products at night, and not in the morning because it can make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure (more on this below).
You will find glycolic acid in products at a concentration of 8 to a maximum of 15 percent. It’s fine to use a face wash with 7 to 10 percent concentration, or a moisturize with 15 percent glycolic acid every day. But if you want to do a peel or apply a mask, then once every other week is more than enough. Stronger treatments like medical-grade peel pads should be done only once a month.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Using glycolic acid can increase sun sensitivity so it’s best to use it before bed. If you have products with this exfoliant acid that you want to use in the morning, it’s fine as long as you apply sunscreen to prevent any sun damage. Also, if you plan to be outside in the sun for an extended period of time then it’s best to skip the glycolic acid altogether.
Glycolic acid found in at-home beauty products is fairly safe and effective. But excessive use of it, just like with any other type of exfoliator, could dry out the skin. To avoid this, combine it with products that have moisturizing ingredients. You could also layer it with your everyday moisturizer to offset the acid’s effects.