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Ingredient Spotlight: How Glycolic Acid Gives You Firmer, Smoother Skin

Known to change skin texture overnight, glycolic acid deserves a spot in your skin care regimen. Read on to find out how glycolic acid can benefit your skin and how you can maximize the benefits.

What is glycolic acid?

As you may be aware, there are two categories of acids in skin care: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA). While the only BHA is salicylic acid, AHAs cover a much broader spectrum. Common AHAs include lactic acid, mandelic acid, and — you guessed it — glycolic acid.

Glycolic acid is considered one of the most potent and effective forms of AHAs. This is because it has smaller molecules than any other acid and is therefore better able to penetrate the skin. It’s traditionally derived from fruit or sugar cane, though synthetic versions can also be produced in the lab. Both versions are considered safe and effective.

Who is glycolic acid for?

The answer is simple: Everyone. Whether you have mature skin, dry skin, oily and acne-prone skin, or combination skin, you can benefit from products that contain this ingredient. It’s also approved for people who have sensitive skin, though you must be more diligent with moisturizers. You might also want to start with a lower concentration of the acid and build up your tolerance.

As for skin care benefits, glycolic acid exfoliates and resurfaces the skin, which makes skin appear smoother and more even-toned, prevents pore-clogging, and also reduces the appearance of fine lines. It also bolsters the skin’s moisture barrier, allowing it to function more seamlessly and effectively ward off damaging free radicals. Finally, this miracle acid stimulates collagen production, which helps firm and tone the skin and further reduces the appearance of fine lines and hyperpigmentation.

One important thing to point out here is that glycolic acid does not treat deep wrinkles. But that is true of all acids. If targeting deep lines is your goal, we recommend putting your money toward professional, in-office care.

How do you use glycolic acid? 

You can begin using glycolic acid as early as age 13, and it will continue serving you well through your golden years. In terms of how frequently you should apply glycolic acid, refer to your product’s written instructions. Ultimately, how often you use a product containing glycolic acid depends on the other active ingredients as well as the concentration of the acid, which is typically between 5% and 15% for over-the-counter products. That said, glycolic acid is often approved for daily use, and it’s best that you apply it in the evening.

Professionally administered glycolic acid typically ranges from 20% to 70% concentration, depending on what the patient’s skin can tolerate and the goal of the treatment. These “chemical peels” provide a more dramatic resurfacing, but they should be done infrequently and only by skilled skin care experts.

It’s important to know that glycolic acid will make your skin more sensitive to the sun. If you wear sunscreen and stay out of the sun for extended periods of time (per usual!), you’ll be A-OK. Also, glycolic acid should only be used as directed; It’s an effective ingredient, and it ought to be used with care!

Finally, we recommend doing a patch test before slathering any product all over your skin. Note that glycolic acid will tingle, but it should never be painful.

Product recommendations:

When shopping for glycolic acid products, keep your primary skin care concerns in mind. For example, The Skinfood Tea Tree Bubble Cleansing Foam is ideal for oily and acne-prone skin. In addition to glycolic acid, it contains tea tree oil and ginger extracts to soothe and purify the skin. The Etude House Zero Sebum White Sebum Clear is also great for oily and acne-prone skin and aims to reduce excess sebum while strengthening the skin.

For those with dry or mature skin, we recommend The Nakeup Face 10% AHA Scaling Cream, which hydrates the skin, promotes cell production, and refines skin texture. Sensitive skin types may like Skinfood Pineapple Peeling Gel, which softens and soothes skin with aloe, vitamins A and C, pineapple extract, and of course, glycolic acid.

+ Do you have a favorite acid you like to use for smoother skin? Share with us below!

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