Chances are you’ve already heard about this hard-working ingredient, or maybe you might have spotted it gracing pots and tubes along the skincare aisle. But, what actually is glycolic acid? And more importantly, why should you care? Let the masterclass commence…
So, what is it?
In science-y terms, glycolic acid is part of an active compound called alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs). Glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size of all the AHAs and is water-soluble, which means it can get deep into the pores before working its magic. It is naturally derived from sugar cane (which is why it’s sometimes referred to as a ‘fruit acid’) but can also be made synthetically.
In skincare terms, it’s an ingredient that exfoliates by getting rid of dull and dead skin cells to reveal newer, healthier skin underneath.
How does it work?
It works by breaking down the glue that holds cells together which then results in exfoliating the skin as it effectively removes dead cells. It’s a weak acid so it can break down oil and sebum which clogs up pores – perfect if you’ve got blemish-prone skin and blackheads. And as a happy knock-on effect of cleaning out the pores, it also shrinks them too!
Why use glycolic acid?
Basically, there’s not a lot this AHA can’t do. It can exfoliate the skin evenly. It can clear up blackheads and blemishes. It can help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (that exfoliation can reach the epidermis to stimulate cell activity). It’s a pore minimiser. It can treat pigmentation and reduce the appearance of age spots and acne scars. It can also restore PH harmony in the skin. Sold? Yes, us too!
Where can I find it?
In a similar way to the ingredient retinol, you can find glycolic acid in various forms and concentrations. If you want to use it at-home and haven’t used it before then always introduce it to your regime slowly and increase usage/concentration over time to avoid any irritation.
You can also opt for targeted treatments (eg. chemical peel) that include a high dosage of glycolic acid, but these are administered by dermatologists and professionals.
How to use glycolic acid
Everyone’s skin type is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to using this exfoliating AHA. The best advice is to introduce it into your regime (starting with a low concentration between 5-8%) and then monitor the effect it has on the skin to see if you need to increase/lower your dosage. It is totally normal for the first few times you use it to experience mild tingling as this is an indication that it is working.
If you continue to experience any redness/dry patches or irritation then give your skin a break. Overuse can dry out the skin, so always follow up with a hydrating moisturiser. And always use SPF after treating the skin with glycolic acid because all that exfoliation and new cells can make the skin more susceptible to UV damage.