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What Is Glycolic Acid?

A trending ingredient in skin care, glycolic acid has been winning raves from estheticians, beauty blogs and skin care experts. This acid may sound daunting at first; however, it offers a ton of skin benefits.

Glycolic acid helps speed up the skin’s natural renewal process, making it a popular choice for both professional-grade chemical peels and at-home products, from cleansers to face masks. Here's more about the basics and benefits of this acid and how to bring it into your skin care ritual.

What Is Glycolic Acid?What Are Glycolic Chemical Peels?What Are The Benefits Of This Type Of Peel?What Skin Types Should Use Glycolic Acid? | How To Incorporate It 

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Derived from sugarcane, glycolic acid is one of many acids that fit under the alpha hydroxy acid umbrella. Alpha hydroxy acids (aka AHAs) are a type of chemical exfoliant, meaning that they use a natural reaction to weaken the bonds that hold dead skin cells in place. This helps slough off the top layer of skin, revealing a refreshed complexion. 

Lactic acid and fruit AHAs are great options for skin care; however, glycolic acid is the most popular and most intensive AHA due to its small molecular size. Pittsburgh-based Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Lindsay Zubritsky says, “it is the most powerful and effective since it can penetrate our skin the best.” Lightweight glycolic acid’s ability to sink deeply into the skin allows for a more thorough exfoliation. However, glycolic acid’s ability to penetrate the skin can irritate sensitive skin types.

What Are Glycolic Chemical Peels?

Chemical peels are a popular cosmetic treatment. Many spas offer this treatment because they’re an effective way to reveal refreshed skin while minimizing the appearance of some common skin issues like problem skin, scarring and dark spots.  

Glycolic acid has keratolytic properties, meaning that it softens the skin’s surface. This makes it an effective way to “peel” dead skin cells and impurities while visibly clearing acne, large pores, scars, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines and wrinkles. When receiving a professional peel, your esthetician may have mild, medium or deep strengths available. Mild peels have a concentration of 20% to 30% glycolic acid, while medium can have between 35% to 50% and deep peels feature a concentration of up to 70%. Mild peels generally don’t require downtime, however, you may need between one to two weeks to recoup from a medium or deep peel. 

Because glycolic acid in strong concentrations can have intense effects, it’s essential to leave it to the professionals. However, there are at-home options that contain a concentration of 10% glycolic acid or less. A gentle peel like our Yam & Pumpkin Enzyme Peel 5% is a fantastic way to keep your complexion fresh and exfoliated between professional treatments. Make sure to follow with the Soothing Chamomile Tonique to neutralize the glycolic acid in this treatment. 

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What Are The Benefits Of This Type Of Peel?

Now that we’ve discussed the basics of glycolic acid, let’s dive into the benefits of this potent AHA. One of the major benefits of a glycolic acid peel is the thorough exfoliation this treatment offers. Glycolic acid encourages faster cell turnover, revealing revitalized skin. In addition, this type of deep exfoliation prepares your skin to absorb subsequent products applied to your skin. Glycolic acid also visibly reduces the signs of aging by encouraging the skin’s natural renewal process. With continued use, you’ll notice refined fine lines and wrinkles. 

Another advantage of a glycolic acid peel is that it reduces problem skin flare-ups. With its light molecular weight, glycolic acid sinks deeply into the skin, clearing out clogged pores to prevent breakouts. Plus, this AHA visibly diminishes the look of scars that may linger once blemishes clear.

What Skin Types Should Use Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is suitable for most skin types. If you have normal, dry, oily or combination skin, glycolic acid is a great ingredient to consider bringing into your routine. However, sensitive skin types may want to pass on this AHA. When an acid penetrates as deeply into the skin as glycolic acid, it can have a hot, stinging sensation. While this is a normal reaction and should not be cause for alarm, those with sensitive skin may find the feeling too intense. 

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How To Incorporate Glycolic Acid Into Your Skin Care Routine?

From cleansers to toners, serums, moisturizers and at-home peels like our Firm Skin Exfoliating Acai Peel, there are several ways you can explore this AHA. Professional peels are especially effective due to their high concentration of active ingredients. However, if you prefer to test out this ingredient at home, it’s best to start slow. Try using a low concentration once or twice a week before using more frequently. Building up your tolerance can minimize sensitivity and irritation.

Because glycolic acid leaves skin sensitive to the sun and UV rays, it’s best to use in an evening routine. Slather on SPF the morning after to protect from photosensitivity. If you opt for a peel like our Yam & Pumpkin Enzyme Peel 5%, use after you’ve cleansed your face and follow up with the Soothing Chamomile Tonique to neutralize actives. You can also use glycolic acid in moisturizers and other cream treatments. Another tip? Be patient as it can take four to six weeks to reap all the benefits of glycolic acid. 

You can also watch Lead Skin Care Trainer Natalie Pergar in this video to learn more about the benefits of glycolic acid and how you can incorporate it into your routine. .

Have you tried glycolic acid at the spa or in your skin care routine? Share your experience with us in the comments below and join the conversation on social media. Interested in a professional peel? Find an Eminence Spa Partner near you.