glycolic acid complete guide

Are you still exfoliating with scrubs?

It’s time to switch things up and give glycolic acid a try.

I know, I know, scrubs can be addictive. But so can glycolic. I’ve never met anyone who made the switch and went back to scrubs.

Glycolic acid is an exfoliant on steroids. It gets rid of dead cells, hydrates your skin, and keeps wrinkles at bay. Can your scrub keep up with that?

In case you’re still on the fence, I’ve put together this complete guide to glycolic acid. By the end, you’ll be ready to ditch scrubs for good. I promise. 🙂

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid belongs to the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family, a group of exfoliants derived from milk and plants.

Glycolic acid in sugar cane. But the type used in skincare products is usually made in a lab.

Glycolic acid is the most famous member of the family. It’s also the smallest. It can easily penetrate your skin, so it works better and faster than all its siblings.

Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Is Right For YOU?

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes dryness and makes your skin supple and dewy? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

Is Glycolic Acid An Effective Exfoliant?

Glycolic acid’s main job is exfoliation. It works by dissolving the glue that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off.

This top layer is the most damaged. These cells have become dull and rough. Darker even. Once they’re out of the way, your skin looks smoother, brighter and more even-toned.

Your dark spots slowly fade away. Wrinkles look smaller too. Your whole complexion glows.

Related: 10 Reasons Why You Need To Exfoliate

sunday riley good genes glycolic acid treatment

Is Glycolic Acid Better Than Physical Scrubs?

“Ungluing” dead skin cells is a much better way to get rid of them than manual exfoliation.

When you scrub your skin with sugar, apricot kernels, or plastic microbeads, you may spend a few seconds more on one area and less on another. You may remove more dead cells, let’s say, on the forehead and fewer on your cheeks.

Plus, scrubs can irritate skin. Apricot kernels are the worst culprits, but anything with rough and jarred edges can scratch skin. Spend a few seconds too long on one area and it’ll get all red and irritated.

Compare that with Glycolic acid. You apply that all over, getting a more even and precise exfoliation WITHOUT lacerations.

Related: Physical VS Chemical Exfoliation: What’s The Difference?

Can Glycolic Acid Treat Sun Damage?

If better exfoliation alone isn’t enough to make you switch, how about this? Glycolic acid can make you look younger.

Scrubs only remove dead cells from the surface of your skin. That’s it.

Glycolic acid goes the extra mile. At 10%+ concentrations, it boosts collagen production, too.

Collagen is the protein that keeps your skin firm and elastic. The more collagen your skin has, the longer it keeps sagging and wrinkling at bay.

Scientists think this is how Glycolic acid helps reduce the fine lines and wrinkles you already have, too.

Related: 8 Science-Backed Ways To Replenish Lost Collagen

the ordinary glycolic acid toning solution

Is Glycolic Acid Hydrating?

Wait… there’s more!

Glycolic acid moisturizes skin, too. This acid increases the levels of hyaluronic acid in the skin. Hyaluronic acid is a moisture magnet that can hold 1000 times its weight in water!

Once your skin has all that moisture, it stays soft all day and looks plumper, too.

Related: Why You Should Add Hyaluronic Acid To Your Skincare Routine

nip + fab glycolic fix liquid glow extreme 6% review

Does Glycolic Acid Have Any Side Effects?

I wish I could tell you there are none… but that wouldn’t be true. Even roses have thorns…

Here goes: Glycolic acid can increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun. In other words, you’re more prone to sun damage if you use glycolic acid. Kinda ironic since it can treat it too, isn’t it?

So why should you use it, I hear you ask? The good far outweigh the bad. Besides there’s an easy fix: wear your sunscreen. 🙂

One more thing: high concentrations can cause irritations. Start small and work your way up.

Related: These 5 Skincare Treatments Can Damage Skin When Abused

nip + fab glycolic fix overnight purifying gel

Who Should Use Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid ain’t for everyone. It’s a godsend for:

  • Dry skin: It exfoliates and hydrates at the same time.
  • Mature skin: It exfoliates and fights wrinkles at the same time.

Instead, avoid it if you have:

  • Oily, acne-prone skin: Opt for salicylic acid, an exfoliant that unclog pores from within. It’s the only acid that gets rid of acne.
  • Sensitive skin: Glycolic acid may be too harsh for your skin type. Lactic acid or a washcloth are better options for you.

Related: Glycolic Acid VS Lactic Acid: Which One Is Right For You?

jan marini bioglycolic cleanser

How Much And How Often Should You Use Glycolic Acid?

If you want fast results, you need to get peels. They use between 20-70% Glycolic acid – but they’re super harsh on the skin. Don’t even think of buying them from Amazon. You can seriously destroy your skin. Save yourself the pain and go to a professional.

OTC concentrations are much lower (<15%) so they work more slowly. They can irritate skin too, but not as severely. Still, start small. Use 5% a couple of times a week and slowly increase both dose and frequency. 

FYI, while we’re on the subject, don’t bother with cleansers with Glycolic acid. Glycolic acid needs to stay on the skin for hours to work its magic. Rinse it down the drain and you won’t see much of an improvement.

Related: Do Exfoliating Cleansers Work?

What Are The Best Products With Glycolic Acid?

The Bottom Line

Glycolic acid is an antiaging superstar. It exfoliates, hydrates, brightens, fades dark spots and wrinkles and even boosts collagen. Good luck finding a scrub that does all that!