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Glycolic Acid Benefits, Side Effects & Best Products

Medically reviewed by:
 Dr. Lucy Chen, MD – Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Lucy Chen, MD – Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Lucy Chen, MD, is a highly regarded board-certified dermatologist with a wealth of expertise in skin health, surgical dermatology, and cosmetic dermatology. She is known for her commitment to patient care and her dedication to advancing the field of dermatology. Her journey is marked by academic excellence, specialized training, and a genuine dedication to […]

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By: Christina Davies
Updated on: April 05, 2024

Today, let’s dive into the wonderful world of skincare superstars and one ingredient that’s been shining bright for quite a while: glycolic acid. 

It might not be the freshest face on the block, but trust me, it’s one of those “oldie but goodie” ingredients you want to know more about. 

From exfoliation to acne treatment and even promoting collagen production, glycolic acid has a lot up its sleeve. 

So, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of why this acid deserves a prime spot in your skincare routine.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Imagine a sugarcane-derived superhero for your skin – that’s glycolic acid for you. This alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) has various strengths, from over-the-counter creams to dermatologist-exclusive chemical peels. 

It’s a gentle giant, positioned on the milder side of AHAs, making it a fantastic option for almost every skin type. 

Unlike its AHA counterparts, like lactic or malic acid, glycolic acid is a bit of a go-getter – it’s more potent. It penetrates your skin more easily, thanks to its teeny-tiny molecular size.

Benefits of Glycolic Acid for Skin

Hold your seats because glycolic acid isn’t just your average exfoliant. It’s a multitasking magician with a bag of tricks that will leave your skin spellbound.

Unveils Softer, Smoother Skin: Glycolic acid is the maestro of shedding dead skin cells. It works by gently loosening the bonds holding those dull and lifeless cells, allowing them to exit gracefully. 

“Sometimes, our skin needs a little help shedding, and this is where glycolic acid really is quite effective,” says Dr. Chen. “This process is known as desquamation.”

Banishes Acne Blues: Are pesky breakouts ruining your day? Glycolic acid swoops in like a hero, preventing clogged pores and stopping acne. Encouraging the shedding of surface cells and those lurking in your pores keeps those zits at bay.

Collagen’s BFF: Aging is a natural process, but who said we couldn’t have a little help from science? Glycolic acid doesn’t just work on the surface; it dives deep into your skin’s layers, kickstarting collagen production. This superhero move helps fight off those sneaky signs of aging.

Side Effects of Glycolic Acid

Before diving headfirst into the glycolic acid pool, let’s discuss the flip side. Remember, even superheroes have their kryptonite.

Even while glycolic acid is incredible, it is still an acid. If you possess sensitive skin or skin diseases like eczema, you risk experiencing some redness, irritability, and peeling. 

If your skin fits any of these descriptions, proceed cautiously.

How to Apply Glycolic Acid

Now that you know glycolic acid’s abilities, let’s discuss using it in your beauty regimen without encountering unpleasant surprises.

Read the labels carefully since not all glycolic acid products are made equally. While some products provide glycolic acid alone, others work as a superhero team with other specially designed acids. 

“You may like to consider where in your skin care regimen you’ll want to incorporate this product,” says Dr. Chen. “Glycolic acid comes in many different formulations such as washes, creams, toners and serums.”

Glycolic acid content is essential, but don’t let percentages deceive you. The free acid value, which considers the quantity of glycolic acid and the product’s pH, is where the true power is. 

If you want to be safe, use goods with a lesser concentration.

Keep in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. As your skin acclimates to glycolic acid, apply it only a few times each week and then gradually increase the frequency.

Here’s some further advice: save glycolic acid for your evening regimen. 

Allow it to work wonders while you get some shut-eye because it may make your skin more susceptible to the sun.

“Look at the other products you may have that tend to leave your skin sensitive and reduce its use and frequency when starting a new glycolic-acid containing product,” says Dr. Chen.

Glycolic Acid Products

These products are available to ensure that your skin receives the love and care it deserves. 

Let’s go right in and investigate these treasures that have swept the beauty industry.

Hyperpigmentation Treatment Backed by Science is Murad

Want to beat dullness and hyperpigmentation? Your remedy is Vitamin-C Glycolic Serum by Murad.

This vitamin C-infused serum is a superpower combination of vitamin C’s antioxidant properties and glycolic acid’s ability to brighten skin. 

Say goodbye to a skin tone that is uneven and hello to a glowing complexion that is set to steal the show.

Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Retinol Resurfacing Peel Pads

Say hello to the ultimate skincare multitasker! Peter Thomas Roth’s Glycolic Retinol Resurfacing Peel Pads bring glycolic acid and retinol to your fingertips. 

These convenient pads exfoliate away dead skin cells, refine texture, and even tackle the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Get ready to unveil smoother, younger-looking skin.

Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Peel

Let’s talk about a game-changer in the world of exfoliation – the Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Peel

These pre-soaked pads offer a two-step treatment that combines glycolic acid with a blend of other powerful AHAs and BHAs. 

The result? More precise, brighter, and more rejuvenated skin that’s practically begging for the spotlight.

Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Mask

Enjoy a spa-like feeling on your skin with the Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Mask

By combining squalane’s moisturizing advantages with glycolic acid’s exfoliating power, this mask elevates self-care to a whole new level. 

Your skin will appreciate you when you treat it to a beautiful makeover that gives you a noticeable healthy glow.

Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Toner

Are you looking for a reliable and inexpensive alternative to glycolic acid? The Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Toner from The Inkey List will care for you. 

Dead skin cells are carefully removed by this exfoliant, giving a complexion that is softer and more even. 

It’s the ideal complement to your regimen to give you the glowing complexion you’ve sought.

Glycolic Power Will Enhance Your Routine

You have it, beauty enthusiasts! These products with glycolic acid in them are going to change the way you take care of your skin. 

These products are the superheroes your skin needs, from peel pads that reveal young radiance to serums that fight hyperpigmentation. 

So go ahead and indulge in a bit of skincare pampering; your skin will appreciate the love and attention!

Fast Facts

DefinitionGlycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid derived from sugarcane.
Cosmetic UseUsed in skincare products for exfoliation, acne treatment, and collagen stimulation.
Impact on Skin TypesWell-tolerated by most skin types, including sensitive skin.
Potential BenefitsExfoliates, reveals smoother skin, fights acne, stimulates collagen production.
DrawbacksCan cause redness, irritation, and peeling, especially for sensitive skin.
Recommended FrequencyStart slow, 2-3 times a week, then gradually increase based on skin’s tolerance.
CompatibilityWorks well with other humectants like hyaluronic acid; can be combined with lightening agents.
PrecautionsPatch test for sensitivity; use sunscreen, as it can increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
Who Should UseGenerally suitable for most skin types; especially beneficial for acne-prone and aging skin.
How Often to Use2-3 times a week initially, potentially increasing to daily use based on skin’s response.
Works Well WithHyaluronic acid, kojic acid, hydroquinone for lightening effects.
Don’t Use WithBe cautious when using with other acids, retinoids, and in combination with products containing them.


Is it good to use glycolic acid every day?

You can use glycolic acid every day based on your skin’s sensitivity and the product’s strength. While some may tolerate daily use, starting 2-3 times a week and gradually increasing is often recommended. Listen to your skin and adjust frequency accordingly.

What does glycolic acid do for your skin?

Glycolic acid gently exfoliates, removing dead skin cells, revealing smoother skin. It fights acne by preventing clogged pores, stimulates collagen, and even helps with hyperpigmentation over time.

Does glycolic acid lighten skin?

Yes, glycolic acid lighten skin over time. Exfoliating the surface and encouraging cell turnover can fade dark spots and uneven tone. It’s often combined with other ingredients like kojic acid or hydroquinone for targeted lightening.

Will glycolic acid remove dark spots?

Glycolic acid’s exfoliating power helps remove dark spots by shedding the top layer of skin. It’s an effective tool against hyperpigmentation, but consistent and patient use is critical for noticeable results.

Final Thoughts

You now have all the information you need, skincare explorers! Even though glycolic acid has been around for a long, it continues to dominate the skincare industry. 

This acid has everything, from getting rid of dead skin cells and acne to going deep to increase collagen formation. Remember that while being nice, it is still an acid. Therefore a patch test and a slow introduction are your best friends.


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