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a quickie guide to glycolic acid

There’s a reason (or two) why trusted aesthetic medical doctors, aestheticians and dermatologists rave about glycolic acid. That said, we get that putting an acid on your skin might sound a little scary. The good news is it doesn’t have to be with this helpful guide to everyone’s favourite exfoliator. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about glycolic acid, including how it works and how you should be using it.

what is glycolic acid?

If you’re familiar with skincare, then this chemical exfoliant probably rings a bell; that’s because it’s included in many of the best facial exfoliators. Derived from sugarcane, glycolic acid is a member of the alpha-hydroxy acid (a.k.a. AHA) family, which also includes lactic, mandelic, malic and tartaric acids. But it’s unique because of its smaller molecular size, making it easier for it to penetrate your skin. Read more in this in-depth article on chemical peels including the ingredients mentioned above here.

what are the benefits of glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is a superficial exfoliant, meaning it works on the surface of the skin to gently dissolve the bonds between dry, dead skin cells, helping them to be more easily shed and make way for the fresher-looking layers underneath. This act of resurfacing can help improve uneven skin tone and texture, as well as allow better penetration of your other skincare products to follow. Sounds good, right? And the list of benefits to using glycolic acid doesn’t end there. Because it penetrates more deeply than other acids, it can also stimulate the production of collagen, which helps skin feel firmer and minimises fine lines and wrinkles.

how do you incorporate glycolic acid into your skincare regimen?

As with any active ingredient, it’s best to start with a lower concentration and work your way up. Here’s how we recommend introducing a glycolic acid serum into your skincare regimen:

  1. Start slowly: Apply a small amount once a week for the first two to three weeks. If no irritation develops, you can increase the frequency to twice a week.
  2. Apply at night: Glycolic acid is powerful, so it’s best to use it at night when your skin is in repair mode.
  3. Order is everything: For the best results, serums go on after cleansing, before moisturising. And remember if you have two serums the thinnest consistency is applied first.
  4. Hydrate: Once the skin is exfoliated, follow with hydration and nourishment.

is glycolic acid safe for all skin types and tones?

When used correctly, glycolic acid is a great option for anyone. But, as a general rule, those with sensitive skin should always be extra cautious when trying a new product. There is also the question of how to safely use acids on darker skin tones, which are more at risk for hyperpigmentation. The concern stems from the fact that overuse of AHAs can cause the skin to react, leading to PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) – so you end up causing more harm than good. This, however, doesn’t mean you have to rule it out, but as always, we advise that you take things slow and talk to your aesthetic medical doctor or skin therapist first.

are there any ingredients you should avoid using with glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid can be beneficial in conjunction with other skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid and salicylic acid, but when it comes to stronger ingredients like retinoids, it’s best not to overdo it especially if you suffer from overly sensitive or dry skin. On the other hand if your skin is not sensitive or dry using glycolic acid in combination with retinol or vitamin C can provide added skin benefits as the AHA/BHA allows a deeper penetration of these ingredients.