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Benefits of Glycolic Acid in Skin Care, Uses, and Risks

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sugarcane. It is widely used in skincare products due to its ability to exfoliate the skin, improve its texture, and promote a more even complexion. In this comprehensive guide, we shall look in depth into the benefits of glycolic acid. Enjoy!

Benefits of Glycolic Acid

In terms of skincare, glycolic acid offers multiple benefits, which make it a powerful ingredient. Its primary function is exfoliation, which helps remove dead skin cells and promotes cell turnover. This process is essential for reducing the signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Glycolic acid also has antibacterial effects, which makes it effective at treating and preventing acne. It also has humectant properties that help retain moisture in the skin and enhance overall skin hydration. 

It is commonly used as a treatment for:

Fine Lines and Wrinkles

Glycolic acid acts on fine lines and wrinkles through several mechanisms. Firstly, it exfoliates the skin by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells and promoting their removal. Exfoliation reveals newer, smoother skin underneath, which reduces the visibility of surface lines.

Secondly, glycolic acid stimulates collagen production. Collagen is a protein that provides structural support to the skin, maintaining its firmness and elasticity. As we age, collagen production decreases, which results in the formation of wrinkles. By boosting collagen synthesis, glycolic acid helps to restore the skin’s firmness and smoothness, diminishing the depth of wrinkles.

Due to its small molecular size, this acid penetrates deep into the skin. This ensures that the acid reaches the dermis, the layer of skin that produces collagen.

Age Spots and Sun Damage

This alpha hydroxy acid effectively combats age spots and sun damage by promoting exfoliation and inhibiting melanin production. It dissolves the bonds between dead skin cells, facilitating their removal and brightening the skin. This process helps diminish age spots and sun-induced hyperpigmentation. On the other hand, it inhibits melanin synthesis and reduces dark spots and uneven skin tone.

Pores and Acne Treatment

Glycolic acid has powerful antibacterial properties. Keeping pores clean prevents clogs that can lead to acne. Additionally, its exfoliating effects smooth the skin’s surface and reduce the visibility of enlarged pores. Regular use of glycolic acid may result in clearer skin with fewer breakouts and a more refined skin texture.

Risks of Glycolic Acid

While glycolic acid offers numerous skincare benefits, it also carries certain risks. Irritation is common, especially for people with sensitive skin. Other issues that might happen are redness, itching, and discomfort. 

Swelling may occur as a reaction to the acid’s exfoliating properties. This symptom indicates inflammation. Burning sensations are possible, especially if the product concentration is too high or if it is left on the skin for too long.

Another side effect is hyperpigmentation, where the skin develops dark spots instead of improving them. It usually happens after sunlight exposure without adequate protection. Overuse or improper application can exacerbate these issues, leading to more severe skin reactions. Therefore, it is crucial to start with lower concentrations, gradually increase usage, and always use sunscreen during the day to mitigate these risks. 


Frequently Asked Questions


Is it good to use glycolic acid every day?

Using glycolic acid every day can be very effective for some people, but it may cause irritation for others. It depends on skin type, sensitivity, and the concentration of glycolic acid in the product. If you have sensitive skin, it’s advisable to start with a lower concentration and gradually increase it to minimize irritation. However, using glycolic acid daily may increase the risk of over-exfoliation, which can result in redness, dryness, and heightened sensitivity. It’s important to pay attention to how your skin responds and adjust your usage accordingly. 


Does glycolic acid lighten the skin?

Yes, glycolic acid can lighten the skin. It works by exfoliating the outer layer of the skin, which can help remove dead skin cells and improve skin texture. This exfoliation can also help to lighten dark spots and hyperpigmentation, resulting in a brighter and more even skin tone. 


Should I moisturize after glycolic acid?

Yes, moisturizing after using glycolic acid is necessary. Glycolic acid can dry the skin, especially at higher concentrations or with frequent use. Moisturizing helps replenish the skin’s barrier and prevents excessive dryness or irritation. Look for a gentle, non-comedogenic moisturizer to use after glycolic acid, and apply it while your skin is still damp to lock in moisture. This will help maintain the skin’s hydration levels, support skin barrier function, and promote overall skin health.


Is salicylic acid or glycolic acid better?

The choice between salicylic acid and glycolic acid depends on your skin type and your specific skin concerns. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is particularly effective at treating acne-prone and oily skin. It penetrates deep into the pores, exfoliates the inside walls, and unclogs pores effectively.

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that is better suited to improving skin texture and tone, as well as treating fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. It exfoliates the surface of the skin and reveals brighter skin. In general, salicylic acid is better for acne-prone skin, while glycolic acid is better for overall skin texture and tone.