While other hotshot skincare ingredients may come and go, glycolic acid is a tried-and-true skincare hero, loved for its truly transformational skin-smoothing benefits. Considered the gold standard of all alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), it’s one of the more potent of the acids as it has the smallest molecules—meaning it penetrates the skin more easily than its other AHA cousins.
“Glycolic acid is a wonderful ingredient in a cleanser, serum, or as part of a treatment such as an at-home peel,” explains Dr. Nina Desai, board-certified dermatologist. “I love using it for brightening, resurfacing, and minimizing signs of aging and acne as it’s great for deeply penetrating the pores and cleansing any oil and debris build-up.”
So, if you're wondering how to use glycolic acid to get smooth skin and looking to retexturize, treat acne, diminish fine lines, or improve your radiance, let’s dive into the wonderful world of glycolic acid.
Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring substance, found in plants and fruit. At Glo, we use glycolic acid derived from sugar cane. As an AHA, it’s a water soluble acid, and has the smallest molecules of all the AHAs so it effectively penetrates deeper into pores, providing better results. At the stronger end of the AHA spectrum, glycolic acid is still gentle enough to be used in at-home products and treatments. Available in various strengths, from at-home skincare products to in-office treatments, you’ll find glycolic acid in a huge array of products, and has many scientific studies to back up its efficacy too.
“Put simply, glycolic acid breaks up the 'glue' or binding that holds dead skin cells together, improving rough, coarse, and uneven texture,” explains Dr. Nina. As we age, cell turnover and renewal rates slow, which can lead to a buildup of dead skin cells on the skin's surface. In addition to uneven texture, having an excess of dead skin cells causes breakouts, dullness and wrinkles. “And, its exfoliating properties can help reduce dark spots or hyperpigmentation,” she adds.
Glycolic acid is also super effective in the treatment of acne and breakouts. “Glycolic acid gets into pores, clearing and cleaning debris that can lead to breakouts,” says Dr. Nina. That dual-action of stimulating the shedding and peeling of these surface skin cells, while deeply cleansing pores, helps treat and prevent further breakouts.
“Not always an ingredient associated directly with anti-aging treatments, consistent use of glycolic acid over time can lead to an improvement in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as it promotes collagen production in those deeper layers.” she shares. “Especially when it’s paired with retinol too. You’ll see smoother skin instantly, but the diminishing fine lines will take a little more time.”
If you want a smoother complexion, then yes. As dehydration, pollution, blue light, sun exposure, genetics, and inadequate exfoliation contribute to texture irregularities, this common skin concern isn’t limited to just one skin type. Most skin types—aside from those with extra sensitive skin, should look at adding at least one glycolic acid product into their skincare ritual. And, if you like how your skin is looking, you can try adding more products over time.
How you use glycolic acid really depends on what results you’re looking for and what you’re already using in your skincare ritual. Whether you have one opening or want an entirely new skincare system, there are a multitude of glycolic acid options to choose from to personalize your ritual. Let’s dive into how to use glycolic acid.
Cleansers are an easy place to start with glycolic acid and are good if you’re worried about skin reaction too as they’re short contact products—meaning they wash off your skin, rather than say a moisturizer or serum which stays on your skin throughout the day. Our best-selling GlyPro AHA Resurfacing Cleanser is a must-try, loved by beauty editors and influencers, featuring 10% glycolic acid to really cleanse and clear those pores, while offering light smoothing action. Aloe vera and green tea extract soothe and nourish, for a radiant, refreshed glow.
Add in an extra toning step with glycolic acid powered Glycolic Resurfacing Toner, a leave-on solution that clears congested skin, refines pores, while softening and smoothing overall texture.
Glycolic acid is a great do-it-all chemical exfoliant, but it can be more targeted for specific skin concerns, especially if you use it in a serum.
Did you know glycolic acid is so versatile it can even be added to your moisturizer too for hydration infused refining and softening? Our Glycolic Resurfacing Cream is a unique treatment moisturizer that retexturizes skin, softening the appearance of fine lines and pores, for a smoother, softer glow.
Safe enough for more concentrated at-home treatments, you may have guessed by now that glycolic acid is one of our favorite ingredients, and is a hero in our best-selling GlyPro AHA Resurfacing Peel. Our peel kits are seven step treatments, straight out of the spa, offering everything you need to complete a pro-level peel, at home. This resurfacing, pore-clearing peel is powered by 30% glycolic acid, plus retinol and niacinamide, offering a more robust refining and retexturizing experience, to reveal your brightest glow ever.
Other than smooth and glowing skin, there are some other things to be aware of when starting your glycolic acid ritual. Using any AHA increases your sensitivity to the sun, so it's important that you're using a daily sunscreen. If you’re using glycolic acid with retinol, it’s best to use it in the evenings only.
As with any active ingredient, glycolic acid can cause some redness on first application—this should subside quickly, but if it doesn’t, wash the product off your skin thoroughly and consult your dermatologist for a plan to build tolerance. You can always do a patch test on your neck or arm to check how reactive your skin is in advance of putting it on your face. In higher concentrations such as in our peel, it may also cause some peeling—which is actually a good thing as you’re removing that top layer of skin, revealing smoother, softer, clearer skin. Make sure you’re using a good moisturizer too to keep skin hydrated and nourished and you’re good to glow
Want more Glycolic Acid? Check out all of our skincare products containing our go-to acid for smooth skin!