5 Things to Know About Glycolic Acid

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serum skincare product acid (Photo : Vecteezy/Jirawat Plekhongthu)

A vast array of ingredients boasts incredible benefits for your skin. However, not all are a one-size-fits-all solution; some demand more than a casual grab and require thorough research or guidance from your dermatologist.

One of them is glycolic acid. Perhaps, this ingredient caught your attention while looking at skincare products in stores or online.

If you’re thinking of introducing glycolic acid into your skincare routine, here’s what you should be aware of before diving in.

Glycolic acid is a type of AHA

Before applying anything to your skin, it’s essential to know what it comprises. Glycolic acid, as per WebMD, falls into the category of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), natural acids commonly present in various foods. Specifically, glycolic acid originates from sugarcane.

Glycolic acid is a versatile ingredient

Glycolic acid is known for its various uses when it comes to skin.

This particular acid can be used to treat acne and acne scars, according to a study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology.

Additionally, research suggested that it has anti-aging properties and the ability to reverse signs of aging and photodamage. WebMD also noted its use in treating dark skin patches.

Glycolic acid is an exfoliant

Glycolic acid is an AHA exfoliant, which operates by dissolving the bonds that trap dead, dull skin on the surface. As skincare company Paula’s Choice explained, when these bonds are gently and uniformly disrupted, the skin naturally sheds its worn-out cells.

Therefore, using glycolic acid can result in smoother, more radiant and more youthful-looking skin. However, this also implies that while using glycolic acid, you might not need to exfoliate with scrubs, as your skin could become overly sensitive if you do, as per Healthline.

Glycolic acid can cause irritation

While glycolic acid offers various benefits, using it also comes with potential side effects. Its suitability varies among different skin types, and it may not fit everyone’s skincare routines.

According to Healthline, skin irritations like swelling, itching, and burning sensations may arise from glycolic acid use, particularly in individuals with dry or sensitive skin. Furthermore, it can heighten sun sensitivity in some people.
Healthline also noted that it may cause irritation in darker skin tones, leading to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or dark spots.

Individuals with sensitive skin or darker skin tones should proceed cautiously or consult a dermatologist before incorporating it into their regimen.

Your skin develops tolerance to glycolic acid

When starting with glycolic acid, it’s recommended to begin with lower concentrations and gradually increase to avoid potential irritation.

The frequency of use can vary from daily application to once or twice a week, depending on the concentration used. It also highly depends on your skin’s tolerance and sensitivity.

In a TikTok video posted by Isomer Skincare, CEO and cosmetic chemist Manuela Marcheggiani advised starting with a concentration of about 5% to 8% glycolic acid at a certain pH everyday for about two to three weeks. When you notice it’s no longer effective for your skin or you stop seeing any changes, consider increasing to perhaps 10% to 15% glycolic acid or stay with 5 to 8% with a lower pH.

“Concentration and pH are very important with glycolic acid and how you can cycle it,” Marcheggiani explained. “So you can get up to almost 20% glycolic acid and then change to a lower pH. Once it stops working for you, you stop using it for about a month [or] for a couple of weeks, and then you start the cycle all over again.”

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