Glycolic Acid: What Is It & How Does It Work?

Tori Douglas

Global Digital

4 min read

Skincare Education

In this article, we take a closer look at glycolic acid, what it is, its properties, its benefits, and how it can be incorporated into a skincare routine to get the best results.

What is glycolic acid and how does it work?

Glycolic acid is a darling in the skincare industry and for good reason. This wonderfully diverse substance is an effective exfoliator, dissolving dead skin cells and oils. It also helps with hydration and may boost collagen production.

There are many uses when it comes to glycolic acid for skin. We’re going to take a closer look at this popular skincare ingredient, glycolic acid skin benefits, and how to incorporate it into a skincare routine.

What is glycolic acid?

The compound glycolic acid is naturally found in some fruits, beetroot, and sugarcane. It is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). These types of acids are regularly used in the beauty industry and also include citric acid, malic acid, and lactic acid.

Glycolic acid is most commonly found in topical skincare products. It can be used in everyday beauty routines or to treat certain skin conditions, such as acne or hyperpigmentation.

It is a chemical exfoliator that dissolves the binding agent between dead skin cells, allowing them to be removed from the surface of the skin without the need for scrubbing with physical exfoliators.

It has the smallest molecular structure of all alpha hydroxy acids, which allows the product to penetrate deeper into the skin.

What does glycolic acid do for the skin?

There are a number of benefits that make glycolic acid a popular addition to skincare products.

It’s a powerful moisturizer

Glycolic acid is a humectant, like hyaluronic acid, which means that it can attract and bind water to skin cells. It increases the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans in the skin, which draws in water molecules.

Hydrated skin is happy, healthy skin, and glycolic acid ensures that your skin is wonderfully moisturized.

No need to use physical exfoliators

Many physical exfoliants, like face scrubs and sponges, can be harsh on the skin, but a chemical exfoliant like glycolic acid negates the need for these. It removes dead skin cells by dissolving the “cement” that binds the cells together.

Can reduce signs of sun damage

Sunspots, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation are all visible signs of photoaging or UV exposure. Glycolic acid is an effective treatment for sun-damaged skin, and it can fade dark patches as well as protect the skin’s collagen from further UV damage.

Improves acne

Glycolic acid has been proven to improve all types of acne, particularly comedonal acne, which is a result of the pores becoming clogged with dead skin cells and oil. Keep in mind, however, that peels for severe acne should contain around 70% glycolic acid, and these should only be applied by a professional after consulting a dermatologist.

Can reduce signs of aging

The skin loses its elasticity and plumpness as we age, and as a result, wrinkles and fine lines will form. For those that want to reduce the appearance of these signs of aging, glycolic acid may help.

It’s been shown to increase levels of hyaluronic acid, which is another humectant, and in doing so, promotes skin hydration. It also stimulates the production of collagen, which is an essential structural component of skin elasticity, as well as improving the quality of elastin found in the skin’s cells.

How to use glycolic acid in your skincare routine

Less is more when you’re just starting to use glycolic acid products at home.

Start off with a gentle, low-dose product. A serum such as Lotus Dream Serum, a glycolic acid cleaner or toner, is a good place to start. If you’d prefer a more active treatment, you could add in a mask or pad once a week too.

Most importantly, you must ensure that you replenish your skin after using glycolic acid products, especially if they are strong exfoliants. If you’re using a serum or cleaner, then be sure to apply a fantastic daily moisturizer, but if you’re using a mask, then it’s important to incorporate the use of a mask that will moisturize and condition your skin once a week too.

While everyone should already use an SPF in their everyday routine, it becomes particularly important when using any chemical exfoliant. They can increase the skin’s sensitivity to light once they have removed dead cells from the surface of the skin.

Choosing a product

The glycolic acid product that you choose largely depends on your skin type and your goals. If you’re after brighter, healthier-looking skin, then something like the Lotus Dream Serum is perfect. It could also prevent breakouts and reduce fine lines when used correctly and consistently.

Professional chemical skin peels are a better choice if you want to treat specific skin issues like acne, deep wrinkles, sun damage, and dark spots.

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At fresh, our skincare products are inspired by nature and perfected by science. Whether you’re looking for something effective to add to your everyday skincare routine or you want to target a particular skin concern, we’ve got the perfect solution for you. Browse our products today.

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blog author tori

Tori Douglas

Global Digital

Written by Tori Douglas for Fresh. Tori is a NYC-based digital and brand strategist. Tori has worked for various publications and brands such as Kiehl's, The Body Shop, Deux Hommes Magazine, and Elite Daily with her expertise lying in the fashion & beauty space.