What is glycolic acid?
Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant that helps to gently dissolve dull dead skin cells from the surface of our complexions.
“This type of non-abrasive exfoliation allows skin to shed in a more efficient manner to unveil a healthier, smoother complexion that’s hiding underneath,” says Desiree Stordahl, Senior Research and Education Manager at Paula’s Choice.
“Glycolic acid occurs naturally in sugar cane but is most effective when created in a lab, where its potency, concentration and pH can be optimised for use in skincare. You may also see glycolic acid interchangeably called AHA (alpha hydroxy acid)—AHA is the classification of this type of exfoliant.”
What are the benefits of glycolic acid?
The first thing people typically notice (and for some products the effect is overnight) is a healthier glow and smoother surface.
“But it also offers longer-term benefits including evening out skin tone, aiding collagen replenishment, and softening the appearance of wrinkles,” Stordahl tells Marie Claire.
“Moreover, studies show that glycolic acid can boost hydration. It does this by helping skin make mucopolysaccharides, which increase the presence of hyaluronic acid within skin.”
What skin types benefit most from glycolic acid?
A lot of acids are targeted towards oily or ageing skin, but glycolic acid is the preferred exfoliant for normal to dry skin. And according to Stordahl, it’s particularly helpful for sun-damaged skin.
“If you have oily or combination skin, or if you’re prone to breakouts and/or clogged pores, go with salicylic acid (also known as BHA) instead,” she recommends.
What’s the best way to use glycolic acid within a routine?
“Use your cleanser and toner first, then apply your glycolic acid exfoliant. You don’t have to wait to apply the other products in your routine (serum, moisturiser, etc.)—they won’t deactivate the glycolic acid,” instructs Stordahl.
However, some cleansers and toners come with glycolic acid in them, so you don’t need to add the extra step if you’re all about a simplistic routine.
“Generally speaking, once a day application works great for most people to keep skin looking optimally healthy, but monitor your skin—if it gets red, flaky or tight feeling, reduce your frequency of application or switch to a lower strength,” says Stordahl.
“You can also experiment with different textures to find which best suits your skin type. For some people, a lotion-based glycolic acid works great. Others may find a gel or serum preferable.”