What Is Glycolic Acid? The Essential Skincare Alphabet


If you’ve been following me for a long time, you’ll know that glycolic acid is one of my favourite ingredients.

When it came to picking an ingredient for letter G, the brainstorming didn’t take long. There are still so many people who are confused about this acid.

Today, I’m going to attempt to create a cheat sheet for you. This way, you can come back here to decide whether or not glycolic acid belongs in your skincare routine.

What type of ingredient is glycolic acid?

It is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid or AHA for short.

Glycolic acid is actually the most common type of AHA. It’s made from a widely available plant, sugar cane.

In skincare AHA’s are used to, as one study put it; ‘reduce the thickness of hyperkeratotic stratum corneum by reducing corneocyte cohesion at lower levels of the stratum corneum’.

In more simple terms, this means it exfoliates the skin, removing dead skin cells by loosening the bonds between them.

This means they have many benefits.

Benefits of glycolic acid

We know it’s a powerful exfoliant, which means your skin will almost instantly look smoother and brighter.

However, a lesser known benefit of glycolic acid, is that it can speed up cell turnover. This is why it is useful in anti-aging skincare.

My favourite Glycolic Acid products.

Side effects

Glycolic acid works so well because it is a small molecule. This means it can penetrate the skin deeply.

This property, of glycolic acid, also means it can cause skin sensitivity.

In fact, this study from 2009, found that using glycolic acid can result in increased sensitivity of human skin to solar simulated radiation. They measured skin redness to determine that increase.

This means that, although glycolic acid possess many benefits, there is a risk that your skin will become more sensitive after you use it.

How often can you use it?

If you are new to using chemical exfoliation start with once a week.

Once you feel comfortable with using it, you can increase usage to three times a week. Never use it everyday.

Product recommendations

Glow Tonic Pixi

  • alcohol-free
  • silicon-free
  • sulfate-free
  • paraben-free
  • EU-allergen-free
  • reef-safe
  • fungal-acne safe

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant Paula’s Choice

  • alcohol-free
  • silicon-free
  • fragrance-free
  • sulfate-free
  • paraben-free
  • oil-free
  • EU-allergen-free
  • reef-safe

Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment Sunday Riley

  • sulfate-free
  • paraben-free
  • reef-free

Honeymoon Glow AHA Resurfacing Night Serum Farmacy

  • silicon-free
  • sulfate-free
  • paraben-free
  • reef-safe
  • fungal-acne safe

Silver Skin Saviour Omorovicza

  • silicon-free
  • sulfate-free
  • paraben-free
  • reef-safe
  • fungal-acne safe
References

Van Scott EJ, Yu RJ. Alpha hydroxy acids: procedures for use in clinical practice. Cutis. 1989 Mar;43(3):222-228.

Thomas, J. R., Dixon, T. K., & Bhattacharyya, T. K. (2013). Effects of topicals on the aging skin process. Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics21(1), 55-60.

Kornhauser, A., Wei, R. R., Yamaguchi, Y., Coelho, S. G., Kaidbey, K., Barton, C., … & Hearing, V. J. (2009). The effects of topically applied glycolic acid and salicylic acid on ultraviolet radiation-induced erythema, DNA damage and sunburn cell formation in human skin. Journal of dermatological science55(1), 10-17.

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