Spotlight on: Glycolic Acid

Spotlight on: Glycolic Acid

Glycolic Acid. If you are at all familiar with skin care, you’ve probably heard this name knocked around quite often. But what exactly is glycolic acid, and what does it do? Most importantly, why should you use it??

What it is: 

Glycolic acid is part of the alpha hydroxy family of natural ingredients (lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid). Glycolic acid is used for acne treatments as well as anti-aging treatments. It is derived from sugar cane, and has the smallest molecules in the citric acid group. This allows it to penetrate the skin deeply and easily, making it the most effective for treating fine lines, acne, blackheads, dullness, oiliness etc.

How does it work?

Glycolic acid works by eating away at the glue between cells. Because it’s highly acidic but is also highly soluble, t reacts with the top layer of skin, breaking it down by dissolving sebum and other substances that bind cells together. Dead skin cells are sloughed off revealing smoother, brighter, younger looking skin. Products range in percentage of concentration and pH levels. A product with pure glycolic acid in a lower concentration is much more effective than another which includes it along with other ingredients (for example in a moisturizer).

Why should you use it?

  • Since it acts as an exfoliant, it clears up blocked pores and blackheads by releasing and dissolving dead skin cells
  • Particularly effective at treating acne, especially cystic acne
  • Increases cell turnover, reducing fine lines and signs of premature aging
  • Acne scars (and other scar lesions) respond well to consistent glycolic acid treatment (try in a chemical peel)
  • Further products and treatments can penetrate deeper as it removes the ‘barrier’ of dead cells and surface grime
  • The effects are compound – meaning frequent use will provide better and better skin
  • It minimizes the appearance of pores by keeping them clear and helping the surrounding cells to strengthen and regain elasticity

How do I use it?

A chemical peel is one of the most effective methods of using glycolic acid. Results generally include smoother-looking and a more evenly-textured skin. Although it causes some peeling of the skin’s surface,  the recovery time is much quicker than that required after a peel performed using more aggressive chemicals. We love SkinMedica’s line of peels, which come in varying strengths.

If chemical peels aren’t for you, try a serum or night treatment–even a face wash once or twice a week will illicit nice, glowing skin for very little effort.

What are the risks in using it?

While glycolic acid is highly effective, there does need to be a little caution involved. Because it is such an active substance, it really must be used correctly to avoid complications.

  • Skin needs to get used to it – a percentage that is too high can cause redness or irritation. Start any new product once or twice a week, and then build up from there–very similar to Retinol use.
  • Use of other products containing Vitamin A, AHA’s or taking Accutane and other medication can cause reaction as the skin is already sensitized. Retinol and AHA can be used together, but it needs to be done carefully. For example, try using AHA’s in the daytime, and Retinols only at night, and alternate weeks.
  • It makes skin more sensitive to the sun – VERY important to wear sunscreen whenever using any sort of AHA to avoid pigmentation and further damage
  • Anything above a 10% concentration is high and needs to be used with knowledge and caution. Anything above 20% in everyday products isn’t necessary  – don’t mistake the highest percentage for the best effects!
  • Most at-home glycolic acid products are around pH 3-4 (slightly more acidic than normal skin), which is a good range for being effective.
  • The smart use of milder concentrations can provide the same benefits as a drastic peel, without the possible irritating side effects – and daily use is often more effective at keeping blackheads away.

Once you try it, we are sure you will love the effects. Skin we be exfoliated, glowing, and smoother– who wouldn’t want that?