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Guest writer Jacalyn Beales investigates the latest trend of incorporating Glycolic Acid into your beauty routine …

With a thoughtful skincare routine often comes a myriad of products which promise to reverse virtually every sign of stress wrought on our skin – from sunscreens to lactic acid peels and more, if you have a pesky issue with your skin, there is most certainly a product for it. But sometimes, certain products or trends take the beauty world by storm, with brands infusing specific ingredients into every item or line they sell in the hopes of turning back the clock on our skin.

Enter, Glycolic Acid.

Part of the alpha hydroxy acid family – a group of acids commonly derived from fruits, milk, or plants high in sugar – glycolic acid has grown in popularity over the past few years, most notably making its mark in 2017 when mainstream brands (and indie ones, alike) began producing products devoted specifically to this acid. Beauty writers, bloggers, magazines, and beloved digital platforms from Allure to Refinery29 all jumped aboard the glycolic bandwagon and declared this acid the go-to ingredient for transforming the skin.


What exactly is glycolic acid, you ask? Turns out, it’s more than just a fruit derivative.

Like other alpha hydroxy acids (also known as “AHAs”), glycolic acid is a natural, chemical compound which acts as a chemical exfoliator. Considered to be one of the more gentler AHAs, glycolic acid functions by penetrating the upper layers of your skin and possesses a number of benefits, the most common of which is the reversal of photoaging. More simply put, glycolic acid helps to reduce the appearance or signs and symptoms of aging.  

The acid is, however, commonly used to treat other skin care concerns, from acne and breakouts to sloughing away dead skin cells and transforming dull, tired-looking skin. Some studies have reported improvements in the appearance and radiance of skin with the use of glycolic acid, though others have determined that AHAs like glycolic acid can make the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet or solar simulated radiation. That’s a technical way of saying, “If you’re going to use glycolic acid, you better use an SPF, too.”

What happens “behind the scenes” (or beneath them?) when you use glycolic acid is surprisingly simple. The acid works by dissolving dead skin cells between the upper most layers of your skin – something you may typically use exfoliating scrubs or masks for. But with the acid, it sloughs away these dead skin cells in a non-abrasive manner, making it a popular choice for those of us who may experience breakouts, have sensitive skin, or react unfavorably to rough exfoliators. Think of glycolic acid as a gentler, less abrasive version of your favorite facial scrub.

The key to incorporating glycolic acid into your everyday skincare routine is twofold. First, it’s important to understand the difference between an AHA like glycolic acid, and a BHA like salicylic acid. AHAs tend to have smaller molecules than BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), which means they do not penetrate as deeply into the skin as BHAs are want to do. BHAs, on the other hand, love oil and are thus best used for acneic skin where acids like salicylic acid can cleanse the skin of acne-causing bacteria and oil. AHAs are better used for rejuvenating the skin – think age spots, sun damage, dull complexions, or tired skin. Of course, glycolic acid is still safe for acneic skin, and can provide a dewy glow.


Secondly, we should keep in mind the type of products in which glycolic acid is most effective. The acid can now be found in virtually any type of skin care product you use on a regular basis – washes, moisturizers, toners, serums, etc. Perhaps most common, however, are glycolic acid cleansers and masks. These work as well as they do because both are typically used once to twice per day or, in the case of a mask, only once per week, but do not remain long on the skin, making their repeated but brief use more effective. When looking at different glycolic acid products, you may notice that many, such as the Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser, instruct the user to only utilize the product one to three times per week (in place of their regular products) – this is likely due to the fact that glycolic acid cleansers can cause dryness or redness if used too frequently. If you choose to incorporate glycolic acid into your routine in a different product, like a moisturizer, you may consider using one which contains other skin-hydrating ingredients, as well.

Ultimately, glycolic acid can be used as a regular or varied ingredient in your skincare routine, depending on your needs and goals. Because the nature of this acid is to rejuvenate the skin and reduce the signs/symptoms of aging in the skin, most glycolic acid products are marketed as “mature” skincare items. However, the acid is safe to use for those looking to get a head start on their anti-aging routine.

But it would be a bit of a stretch to assume that the acid can repair all damage – it cannot, for example, rid your skin of deep-set wrinkles, nor can it cure acneic skin conditions. Being realistic about the uses and effects of AHAs will make it far easier to choose the glycolic product that’s right for your skin, without the expectation of, say, shaving twenty years off of your appearance. Overall, glycolic acid products should be used to maintain the health and appearance of the skin.

If you’re curious about the type of products available for your glycolic acid needs, a few natural (but quite accessible) recommendations are:

And, if you’re a die-hard DIYer, you can try making your own glycolic acid skincare right at home:


Thank you to Jacalyn for this article. To discover more of Jacalyn’s work click here, and to take a peek at her Instagram (which we highly recommend) click here.


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