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Glycolic Acid, Explained: Everything You Need To Know

Posted by Nikki Wisher on Dec 20th 2022

Glycolic Acid, Explained: Everything You Need To Know

What is it that separates a good skin care product from a bad one? Why do some products seem to magically glow up your skin like Cinderella’s fairy godmother while others just fall flat (or worse, spark breakouts or other issues)? It comes down to the ingredients, of course, but how do you know which ingredients will make a product work for your skin?

While the best ingredients will vary from person to person based on skin type and skin needs, one ingredient that’s productive for almost everyone is glycolic acid. Let’s dive further into this absolute champion, what it does for your skin, and how you can use it.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an acidic compound that appears in nature. It’s found naturally in sugarcane, beets, and certain fruits, although most of the glycolic acid in skin care products is lab-created. Because of its chemical structure, glycolic acid is in a group called the alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs. No, that’s not a grunge band from the ‘90s. I won’t bore you with a chemistry lesson, but AHAs have chemical properties that make them some of the best ingredients in skin care, especially for acne control and anti-aging.

What Makes Glycolic Acid Such a Skin Care Rock Star?

There are plenty of acids that are used in skin care products, so what makes glycolic acid so special? The beauty lies not in the fact that it does one thing very well but the fact that it does many things very well.

Gentle Yet Effective Exfoliation

Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant. This means that it removes the surface layer of dead skin cells and oil from the top of your skin by dissolving it.

If you use exfoliant, you’ll notice that most exfoliants have a rough texture, so they essentially exfoliate by scrubbing off the dead skin cells and oils. That abrasion can be irritating for your skin. Glycolic acid, by contrast, is not only a gentler exfoliant but a remarkably effective one too.

Future-Focused Hydration

Dy skin is no one’s best friend. It makes fine lines and wrinkles look more prominent and it can be itchy and uncomfortable too, not to mention giving you that flaky look that no one loves. Glycolic acid knows exactly how to stop it in its tracks.

Glycolic acid is a natural humectant. That means that it attracts and binds water molecules to the skin. In other words, glycolic acid gives you long-lasting hydration by helping your skin retain moisture rather than just giving your skin moisture that will evaporate in the blink of an eye.

Acne Fighting Powers

For people who struggle with acne, glycolic acid is one of the first suggestions dermatologists and aestheticians typically make. For starters, the exfoliation that glycolic acid provides will get rid of prime pore-clogging debris. Beyond this, though, glycolic acid is a natural antibiotic that helps to fight off the bacteria that can contribute to acne.

Photoaging Reversal

If you’re not familiar with the term “photoaging,” it refers to all the premature aging that comes from sun damage – age spots, premature wrinkles, those gems. Glycolic acid can actually help to repair photoaging while also having a protective effect that can keep future photoaging to a minimum.

Multi-Angle Anti-Aging Rejuvenation

If you want to look youthful and refreshed (who doesn’t?), glycolic acid is an outstanding tool. In fact, you could call it the Swiss army knife of anti-aging because it revitalizes your skin from several different angles at the same time.

Glycolic acid enhances your collagen production for firmer, more wrinkle-resistant skin. It increases the hyaluronic acid in your skin for better hydration which makes lines and wrinkles less visible. It reduces sun damage that causes age spots. It enhances your skin’s ability to repair itself and it gives you higher-quality elastin, a protein that helps your skin withstand wrinkles.

Small Particle Size

Glycolic acid can do so much for your skin, but it’s not a jack of all trades but master of none. In fact, with all of the functions it performs for your skin, it does an exceptional job. How?

Glycolic acid’s secret weapon is its small particle size – the smallest particle size of all AHAs. Because glycolic acid’s particles are so tiny, they’re able to reach deeper into your skin where there can make more of an impact on your skin’s health and appearance.

So What’s the Catch? Are There Downsides to Glycolic Acid?

I’m a skeptical person, and I’ve learned that when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. It turns out that with glycolic acid, that’s partially true – it does have its risks, like nearly any skin care ingredient.

For some people, glycolic acid can irritate their skin. Any time you have inflammation, it can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or brown spots.

Keep in mind that most people use glycolic acid successfully without any irritation. If your skin does get inflamed, you may be able to use a lower concentration of glycolic acid to keep enjoying the benefits of this skin care powerhouse without the inflammation. Ultimately, as with any ingredient or product, each person’s skin will react differently.

How to Use Glycolic Acid in Your Skin Care Routine

Ready to start seeing what glycolic acid can do for your skin? There are plenty of ways to start taking advantage of it in your skin care routine.

Try a Cleanser with Glycolic Acid

An exfoliating cleanser can give you a gentle daily exfoliation as you’re washing your skin every day so you always have a fresh and polished look. Glycolic acid is one of the most popular choices for exfoliating cleansers, so a glycolic acid cleanser can be a great addition to your nighttime skin care routine.

Infuse Your Skin with a Glycolic Acid Serum

Because glycolic acid can do so much for your skin, a glycolic acid serum can help people who want to prevent aging, manage acne, repair skin damage, and more. It can be a handy step to use in your routine if you want to maximize the impact of your glycolic acid.

Resurface While You Hydrate with a Glycolic Acid Resurfacing Cream

The Replenix Glycolic Acid Resurfacing Cream is an exceptionally effective product for sending signs of aging out into the cold. Give it a try for a daily dose of skin revitalization.

However you choose to add glycolic acid into your skin care routine, make it a consistent part of your daily to-do list and you’re sure to start seeing the effects after a few weeks. It just proves that you can take care of all your skin care goals with a simple tweak to your daily routine if you find the right products!