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How To Use Glycolic Acid for Best Results

woman happily examining her skin

Glycolic Acid has been floating around the skincare circuit for quite some time now, but let’s face it (pun intended!): anything with “acid” in the title probably makes you pause, and wonder just how good it could be for your skin.

Once you get over the word itself, you’ll find that Glycolic Acid has a multitude of benefits that promote a bright, healthy and glowing complexion.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic Acid is an amazing skincare ingredient for acne and brightening your complexion.

Glycolic Acid is part of the AHA family, which basically means that it’s a chemical exfoliant that’s an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). It contains naturally occurring ingredients that derive from everyday fruits such as pineapple and sugar cane and is water-soluble.

There has been a rise in popularity of using Glycolic Acid for skincare due to the fact that its small molecule makes it able to reach the deepest layers of the skin.

Their small size makes them able to reach a deeper layer of your skin and allows your skin to radiate from that deepest layer. By helping peel away the dead surface layer of your skin, they make way for a new, even and glowing complexion of healthy, pigmented skin cells that take their place.

Unlike a lot of skincare ingredients, you’ll notice a change of feeling in your skin almost immediately. After applying Glycolic Acid, you will notice that your skin is likely glowing and soft. It may sound like magic, but it’s far from it. After all, Glycolic Acid is a well-tested skincare ingredient that gives incredible, consistent results.

How Does Glycolic Acid Help My Skin?

Let’s get into a little bit of the science behind why Glycolic Acid helps your skin. Glycolic Acid breaks down sebum to remove the dead skin cells and the top layer of your skin.

This allows for a radiating, fresh, new clean layer of skin cells to form and appear. As you can guess, because of this, overusing Glycolic Acid can lead to irritation, skin sensitivity and overall redness in your skin.

Glycolic Acid can be used on any skin type: oily, combination, normal or dry.

Because of its small molecules, it is a very gentle ingredient on your skin and you won’t risk scrubbing like you might be tempted to with an exfoliant. Glycolic Acid won’t tear the skin at all, it simply creates a reaction on the skin.

How To Use Glycolic Acid

If you are suffering from dull, rough, break-out prone or acne-scarred skin, then Glycolic Acid is definitely for you.

Using Glycolic Acid for Breakouts

Glycolic Acid will help remove the dead skin that’s likely blocking your pores and making them clogged up. By removing this layer, you’re giving your skin a whole new fresh, clean slate to grow a healthy layer after experiencing trauma to the skin, like an acne breakout.

Using Glycolic Acid for Hyperpigmentation and Scarring

If you are left with scarring from an acne breakout, or hyperpigmentation/spots, Glycolic Acid is a key ingredient for you, too.

Think of it this way: scarring and hyperpigmentation only affect the top layer of your skin, and Glycolic Acid helps remove the top layer of your skin. By removing the damaged top layer, the scars and hyperpigmented areas will become softer and should fade with consistent use.

Using Glycolic Acid for Dull Skin

If you are struggling with dull or gray skin, it’s likely because your pores are clogged up with oil and dead skin, causing dullness to your overall complexion.

While exfoliating, and washing your face is also critical in combating this type of skin, Glycolic Acid will help aid the process, removing that top layer and promoting a fresher and more even skin tone.

Using Glycolic Acid for Rough Textured Skin

Those that deal with flaky skin can also benefit from Glycolic Acid. If you have rough skin, you need those patches to slough off and your new layer to be rehydrated.

As we’ve discussed, Glycolic Acid removes that top layer but also rehydrates your skin by transferring water molecules from the air to your skin. This is another key difference between using an AHA and using an exfoliant.

Though they are different ingredients that each have their benefits, opting for a “scrub” instead of an “acid” might be tempting. However, it will likely be the reverse effect.

Glycolic Acid is actually the gentler option when it comes to rejuvenating your skin from its deepest layer.

Of course, exfoliation has its place. For some skin types, a gentler solution may help when dealing with your skincare regimen. Glycolic Acid is likely the better solution all around, though the two shouldn’t always be compared.

Using Glycolic Acid for Mature Skin

For skin that has brown spots, or sunspots, Glycolic Acid can also stimulate the production of collagen. Collagen makes the skin appear smooth and plump, so if that’s something you’re into, this is definitely another reason to try it.

Why Should You Try Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic Acid has many benefits and is good for a multitude of reasons. It can level up just about everyone’s skincare routine, and gives freshness and glow to every skin type.

Glycolic Acid can help:
  • Promote a glowing, fresh and bright complexion
  • Remove dead skin
  • Is good for any skin type
  • Make your skin appear plump by stimulating collagen production
  • Allow for healthy, fresh skin to grow on the top layer

When To Use Glycolic Acid

Because Glycolic Acid is still an acid, it will increase your skin's sensitivity. This isn’t a bad thing, just something to be aware of in choosing what time of day to apply it, and what precautions you need to have when using it. In order to prevent sunburn and skin damage, SPF should be a part of your daily skincare routine.

Use It At Night

Making Glycolic Acid a part of your evening skincare routine is a great way to ensure that you’re applying it before a night's rest, and won’t be in any sunlight during that time.

Take Time To Adjust

If you’re trying Glycolic Acid out for the first time, you want to start with a small amount, and only once a week. You can gradually increase that amount in time, but don’t start off using it every night, as that will likely irritate your skin.

Be Careful With How You Use Glycolic Acid

Glycolic Acid can sometimes cause a reaction when paired with Vitamin A. Avoid using these active ingredients together, and instead, use them at different times in the day/week to optimize the best results.

Choose which method you use Glycolic Acid with.Glycolic Acid can either be used as a face wash, toner or face mask. You have to decide which method you want to use but cannot choose all of them at once.

Face wash contains a low concentration of acid (around 8-10 percent or less). It can be used as step 1 in your nighttime skincare routine. It often contains Salicylic Acid as well, making it an excellent option for those dealing with persistent acne.

Toner contains a low concentration of acid (around 8-10 percent). You can use it right after you cleanse your face at night. It should be step two in your nighttime skincare routine.

A face mask that has a high concentration of glycolic acid (concentrations will vary based on product), should be used only weekly and not part of any daily routine. It helps the absorption of other skincare products. It should be step one in your nighttime routine, as long as only done weekly.

Should Glycolic Acid Be Used Alone, or With Other Products?

We briefly touched on this above but thought it important enough to expand on. Basically, combining Glycolic Acid with something else can be done, but it’s really best not to straight out of the gate.

If you’re using a product containing Retinol, we don’t recommend using it in conjunction with Glycolic Acid. Wait at least a day in between, and consider alternating between Glycolic Acid and Retinol.

The most important thing you can do is listen to what your skin is telling you. If it begins to slough off and peel, that is a distinct sign that you are using too much or too many acids on your skin.

If you’re still wanting to know more, take our Quiz and book a virtual consultation with one of our experts. Looking for a dermatologist? Use our Melanin Experts Network to find one near you.

By: Ivey Rogers Aesthetician Educator & Community
Engagement Manager