Glycolic Acid for Skin: Benefits and How to Use It?

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Glycolic acid is a well-known component in skin care products and chemical peels. But not everyone is aware of its potential benefits when used as part of a skincare routine. Glycolic acid is our skin’s best friend when used correctly. 

What is glycolic acid? 

Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are a class of naturally occurring fruit acids present in food. Glycolic acid is one of these acids. 

AHAs function by loosening the glue-like material holding the skin’s top layer of dull, dead skin cells, exposing fresher, healthier skin underneath. Moreover, it promotes the growth of new cells, which enhances skin tone, texture and complexion. 

Glycolic acid is the most bioavailable and active of all the AHAs, enabling it to easily permeate the skin. It also has the shortest molecular size of all the AHAs.

When used properly, glycolic acid attracts moisture to the freshly exfoliated skin, moisturising dry skin and delaying the appearance of new fine lines and wrinkles. 

Use sunscreen whenever using glycolic acid, as it increases the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays. Mild stinging, redness, and burning sensation are completely normal until the skin adjusts to this ingredient. Overall, glycolic acid is a powerful chemical that will boost the skin care regimen.

How does glycolic acid work on the skin? 

Of all the AHAs, glycolic acid contains the smallest molecules. This makes it easier for glycolic acid to penetrate the skin and exfoliate it more effectively than other AHAs.

Glycolic acid works by accelerating cell shedding. The bonds holding skin cells together are broken down by it. It has the effect of enabling the skin to exfoliate dead skin cells more quickly than it would naturally.

Glycolic acid causes the skin to produce more collagen. The protein called collagen gives skin its firmness and elasticity. Moreover, it strengthens the connective tissues and bones in the body.

The skin produces less collagen with increase in age. Spending too much time out in the sun can also damage collagen. Regular use of glycolic acid can help stop collagen deterioration.

Benefits of glycolic acid for the skin 

Hydrates dry skin 

Glycolic acid moisturises dry skin and helps with exfoliation. Glycolic acid is classified as a humectant as it chemically draws water molecules to itself. This indicates that glycolic acid can hydrate the skin again. 

Using humectants renders healthy, hydrated skin, but they may also be problematic. This is because the humectants draw moisture from the air (especially if it’s humid) and the deeper layers of the skin. 

Humectants will absorb additional water when it’s humid (when there is high moisture in the air than on the skin). Use another heavier moisturiser or cream on top of the glycolic acid product. Its occlusive layer will aid in retaining moisture on the skin.

Reduces wrinkles and fine lines (Anti-ageing) 

Glycolic acid diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles through a complete exfoliation of the top layer of the skin.

By speeding up skin cell regeneration by exfoliation, the skin’s ability to retain moisture and produce collagen are both improved.

Diminishes pigmentation 

Glycolic acid lightens mild hyperpigmentation such as age spots, freckles, black patches and melasma. Glycolic acid has been regarded as a successful acne scar therapy. 

Hyperpigmentation is the darkest on the skin’s surface, and the pigmentation reduces in the deeper layers. Glycolic acid exfoliates the skin’s surface and removes darker dead skin cells, revealing a new layer of skin with a more even skin tone. Hyperpigmentation can be successfully removed using this method over time.

Fights acne 

Glycolic acid treats acne by removing the dead skin cells that frequently clog pores and cause outbreaks. Since glycolic acid is keratolytic, it can disintegrate dead skin cells on the skin’s surface and unclog any clogged pores. 

Glycolic acid has been demonstrated in a recent evaluation of glycolic acid peel treatment to cure existing acne and maintain clear skin by peeling away dead skin cells that block pores and cause breakouts.

Brightens complexion 

When applied regularly, it makes the skin look brighter. The tiny glycolic acid molecules penetrate deep into the skin’s surface and disintegrate the bonds holding dead skin cells together. Fresh skin is more radiant, supple and smooth with glycolic acid usage.

Increases penetration of ingredients 

Glycolic acid is the best option to remove dead skin cells on the surface. A deeper penetration of other skin care products is made possible by glycolic acid exfoliation, which also hastens skin cell renewal. The effectiveness of other skin care products is enhanced by glycolic acid. 

Is glycolic acid suitable for all skin types? 

The ideal skin types for using glycolic acid are normal, combination, and oily. Yet, not everyone should use glycolic acid. 

Individuals with dry, extremely sensitive skin frequently experience irritation reactions to it. They might cause irritation by using it in any form, whether it be in a topical cream, a peeling pad for at-home usage or a chemical peel procedure.

Furthermore, climatic changes must also be taken into account. In the winter, when the skin’s barrier function may be weakened (and the skin seems dry or chapped), this might allow for deeper penetration. 

In contrast, exposure to the sun can accelerate skin cellular turnover, which exfoliates the skin. Since glycolic acid might increase the sensitivity to sunlight, usage is riskier in the summer. But, using SPF is vital year-round and especially right after exfoliating.

Ways to use glycolic acid for the skin 

Glycolic acid for skin


One can achieve the most radiant and glowing effects by using a glycolic acid cleanser with its complementary night-time treatment.


A glycolic acid moisturiser helps in exfoliation and handles both procedures (moisturising and exfoliating) simultaneously.

Body lotion 

Body lotion with glycolic acid has been designed especially with a particular concentration of glycolic acid to help achieve softer, smoother skin. Body lotion can be used from the neck down. 

The appearance of hard, blocked, red pimples on the arms and legs is also improved by this leave-on exfoliator, which is creamy yet lightweight and eliminates built-up layers of dead skin.

Overnight cream 

The pH level and glycolic acid content in the night cream are appropriate to provide the required glycolic acid level. This concentration gives the ideal balance between maximal effectiveness and tolerance, allowing us to use it as a night treatment without fear of causing sensitivity. If the skin cannot take retinol, one can even use this as an alternative treatment.

Light peel 

The radiance-enhancing mask boosts skin tone and texture while decreasing visible symptoms of sun damage, hyperpigmentation and acne scarring. This contains natural fruit acids, including glycolic, lactic, citric and tartaric.

Whitehead remover 

Whitehead treatment involves using 7% glycolic acid to gently exfoliate the face, remove whiteheads and other pore-clogging debris and tighten pores. Also, with the presence of niacinamide, acne scars can be lightened.

For callused foot 

An innovative combination of plant extracts and exfoliants is pre-infused into a pair of socks in this product to smooth and soften tough, calloused feet. 

To promote a soft texture and new cell growth and leave feet looking and feeling supple, glycolic, malic, and lactic acids peel-off can be used on this tough, dead skin. 

How to use glycolic acid? 

  • Use glycolic acid products exclusively at night. This is important as glycolic acid, and all other AHAs increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation. To safeguard the freshly exfoliated skin, apply at bedtime and wear sunscreen in the morning.
  • While using glycolic acid for the first time, mild stinging and redness are usual. Eventually, the skin will adjust to it. Before using anything on the full face, always try a patch first. 
  • Lower glycolic acid concentration products (starting with less than 10%) make it easier to condition the skin to become adjusted to it. Higher glycolic acid concentrations can irritate the skin more severely.
  • Use not more than a pea-sized amount for the entire face. Excessive irritability can result from using too much glycolic acid product.
  • Exfoliate once or twice per week and not every day. Over-exfoliation can hasten to age and cause irritability, redness, pimples, dryness and even acne. 
  • Being a chemical exfoliator, glycolic acid has the capacity to remove the surface-layer dead skin cells from the skin. Hence, refrain from washing it. Allow the product to work its magic and absorb into the skin.
  • After using a glycolic acid product, moisturise the skin. Always remember to moisturise the freshly exfoliated skin twice a day, in the morning and the evening.
  • The FDA advises using sunscreen on skin that has been treated with glycolic acid.

Side effects of using glycolic acid 

Since glycolic acid is so strong, one can have burns or skin rashes. But, overall, the ingredient is considered safe on the skin. 

A medical professional can even administer a glycolic acid peel to treat acne in a safe way.

Glycolic acid is immediately neutralised upon contact with water. One can rinse it off without experiencing any tingling sensation, regardless of how deeply it penetrates the skin. It stops there immediately and won’t go any further.


Glycolic acid is one powerful component that can address many concerns. Addressing breakouts, balancing skin texture and removing dead skin cells are some of the benefits of using glycolic acid. This strong AHA exfoliates the skin effectively and enhances skin tone and texture while reducing hyperpigmentation. To determine which treatment is suitable for an individual, speaking with a board-certified dermatologist is important before using glycolic acid.


What does glycolic acid do to your skin? 

Glycolic acid exfoliates the skin, accelerates cell renewal and increases collagen synthesis. To give the skin a youthful appearance, glycolic acid helps moisturise it, unclog pores, smooth fine lines, improve skin tone and remove dark spots and sun damage.

Is it OK to use glycolic acid every day? 

It depends on the kind of glycolic acid product being used. In general, glycolic acid-containing products are not advisable to be used every day. 
Everyday usage is acceptable while using a rinse-off product, like a cleanser with glycolic acid. But, while using a leave-on glycolic acid product (such as a serum, gel, cream, mask, or peel), one should only apply it one to three times per week.

How Long Can You Leave Glycolic Acid On Your Face? 

Glycolic acid can be used on the face and let it absorbed into the skin by leaving it on all night. Rinse off with water the next day. However, in some instances, this can make an individual more sensitive to the sun and perhaps make the acne worse.
It is okay to leave on glycolic acid for 3 to 10 minutes on the skin if it is a washable product.
Having the smallest molecules of all the acids, the particles in glycolic acid allow it to penetrate rapidly and thoroughly, dissolving the glue holding dead skin cells together.

Does glycolic acid cause purge? 

Certain chemicals that speed up the body’s natural process of getting rid of dead skin cells can trigger skin purging. The acne outbreak is usually the result of using products that contain ingredients like lactic acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid and retinoids.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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