What Is Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is a water-soluble alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s widely used for anti-aging, hyperpigmentation, dryness, and acne. AHAs are natural acids that come from plants. They consist of tiny molecules that are very easy for skin to absorb. This makes them ideal for smoothing fine lines, improving skin texture, and other anti-aging uses.
Glycolic acid works by speeding up cell turnover. In other words, it dissolves the bonds that hold skin cells together. As a result, the skin is able to shed dead cells more quickly than it would on its own. Glycolic acid also triggers skin to produce more collagen. Collagen is the protein that makes skin firm, plump, and elastic, and using glycolic acid everyday can help to prevent the breakdown of collagen. Glycolic acid also gives bones and connective tissues their strength.
Considered the golden standard of AHAs, glycolic acid’s keratolytic properties exfoliate dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. This exfoliation helps to reduce existing fine lines and wrinkles, fade hyperpigmentation, and clear acne.
Derived from sugarcane, glycolic acid is also a humectant meaning it has the chemical ability to draw moisture to itself. This means glycolic acid draws moisture to newly exfoliated skin which, when used correctly, not only hydrates dry skin, but also prevents new fine lines and wrinkles.
Glycolic acid treatment is very popular for its ability to improve complexion. When used regularly, glycolic acid helps to brighten the skin and achieve a more even skin tone. Glycolic acid is also great at preventing ingrown hairs, comedones, blackheads, and inflamed breakouts.
Another amazing property of glycolic acid is its ability to minimize discoloration. This includes acne scars, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and in some cases melasma (if used in conjunction with other proper pigment inhibiting actives). Long-term use of glycolic acid can help reduce pigmentation in the skin by exfoliating away skin cells loaded with melanin, which are then replaced with newer, more evenly pigmented cells.
Glycolic acid’s molecules are the smallest and lightest of all AHAs, so they’re able to penetrate the skin more easily. Using even a low concentration (three percent or lower) can yield results. With continuous use, glycolic acid can reduce the appearance of wrinkles, improve uneven skin tone, and lessen breakouts, leading to younger- and healthier-looking skin.
A common source of glycolic acid is sugarcane, the main uses of sugarcane are as refined sugar, molasses, rum, and a type of syrup used as flavoring. Sugar beets are also a good source of glycolic acid. Boiling shredded beets for several hours, then pressing the mash until you’ve extracted a liquid resembling the consistency of honey, produces the syrup. Unripe grapes, cantaloupes, pineapples, tomatoes, sour milk, and papaya contain glycolic acid as well.
Our Skincare Top Picks
Light Ceutic gently exfoliates the skin and reduces the appearance of pigment spots, thanks to the combined action of glycolic acid, phytic acid, and vitamin C. This exfoliation process allows the skin to naturally regenerate overnight. Suitable for all skin types.
Active Ingredients: 8% glycolic acid solution, 4% phytic acid solution, vitamin C complex
Best for: irregular and dull complexion
Turn Over reduces signs of skin aging by removing dead cells. Its highly concentrated glycolic acid solution supports the skin’s natural turnover to reduce the appearance of loss of skin tone, wrinkles, and fine lines. Suitable for all skin types. Fragrance free.
Active Ingredients: 15% glycolic acid solution
Best for: loss of skin tone, wrinkles, and fine lines