On your journey to news ways of getting your skin to look smooth and glowing (best would be flawless), you have incorporated into your skincare a weekly or bi-weekly exfoliation. You may have also swapped the physical with a chemical exfoliant. So, you’ve read “glycolic acid” on it, but do you actually know what it does (besides exfoliating of course)?

So, What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid isn’t some new-fangled ingredient coming from the East but is used in skincare products and in-practice chemical peels since the 1990ies and it’s here to stay.

Image by Corinna Schenk

Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring substance that can be found in sugar cane and so its earliest form, it was derived from this plant. Nowadays, it’s often produced synthetically. Regardless of how it’s made, it falls under the umbrella of alpha-hydroxy acids, shortened to AHAs, a group of fruit acids to which lactic, malic, citric, tartaric and mandelic acid belong.

AHAs are water-soluble meaning that it works on the surface layer of the skin. Since they aren’t oil-soluble, they can’t cut through the oil and penetrate deeper. They are best for superficial exfoliation. Imagine your skin as a brick wall, AHAs work by loosening the cement-like substance that holds dull and dead skin cells (the bricks) on the topmost layer of your skin. This allows the bricks (cells) to fall away more easily revealing newer, healthier skin. They also stimulate new cell generation, which improves skin texture, tone resulting in a brighter complexion.

Photo by Andreas Schantl

Set side by side, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size of the AHAs, so it’s the most bioavailable and active. This means it can penetrate the skin the most easily compared to the others.

What’s So Beneficial About Using Glycolic Acid?

First and foremost, glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant that dissolves the bonds between skin cells. To understand why this helps to even out your skin tone, it’s important to first understand the skin’s cellular turnover rates. The skin surface cellular turnover takes about 28 days, but with age, this period gets ever longer. As the turnover slows down, the dead skin cells can buildup on the surface and make the skin appear dull and lacklustre.

As the small molecular size makes glycolic acid so readily available, it helps with fighting spots and preventing further breakouts, clears pores, and controls sebum production.

It’s small molecular size also means that glycolic acid can do its work deeper within the skin, where it stimulates fibroblast that then produces more collagen and elastin. Skin that has more of both feels firmer and appears to have lines or wrinkles. If you apply products that contain glycolic acid for a longer period, it will make a visible impact on the overall health of your skin and reduce signs of environmental damage.

Should you have rough, bumpy, and thick skin on your body, a typical spot would be on the underarm area, you can try to smooth out the “chicken skin” (it’s called keratosis pilaris) by exfoliating regularly with a glycolic acid-based product. The bumpy and rough skin is caused by a build-up of keratin around the hair follicles. This means that regular exfoliation also helps treat ingrown hair.

How To Use Glycolic Acid In Your Skincare?

Glycolic acid comes in various forms and formulations. You can find cleansers, toners, serums, moisturisers, eye creams, and masks – just to list a few. Therefore, the percentages and levels of potency are all different. You can see concentration anywhere from 5 to 25%. As with all skincare products, start with a patch test, and when that’s ok, ease yourself into your routine. For example, start with a cleanser to get your skin used to it. Alternatively, you start to use a glycolic acid-based product up to 3 times a week for a few weeks, then increase the dosage when you feel your skin has adjusted to it. Glycolic acid products may cause a tingling, stinging sensation, especially on sensitive skin types.

No matter what skin type you are, treat the skin around the eyes with care, since it’s thinner and more sensitive, thus, avoid applying such products near to the eyes. As AHA, an exfoliant, always wear sunscreen, as it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Since AHAs are active ingredients, incorporate such products into your evening routine. Most products containing glycolic acid (except cleansers) are lightweight and are meant to be left overnight to do their work when the skin is in repair mode.

If you are looking to simplify your skincare routine with a product and still achieve a radiant and flawless complexion, try adding a product with glycolic acid to your skincare regimen. From clearing and minimising clogged pores, improving acne-prone skin, to plumping up fine lines, evening out skin tone, it takes care of all kinds of skin issues you undergo because of age and pollution.

Do you have a favourite way to apply glycolic acid? Let us know in the comments.

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