Ingredient: Glycolic Acid

What is glycolic acid + how does it work?

Glycolic acid is part of the (AHA) alpha hydroxy family of acids. It's a naturally occurring compound found in sugarcane or beets but it may also be synthetically produced. It has exfoliating properties for the skin. 

Glycolic acid is the smallest molecule of the AHA family so it penetrates the skin easily. It's water soluble and works from the surface of the skin down to the bottom of the pore. 

Skin Benefits

» Suitable for all skin types, especially combination, dry, flaky, mature and aging prevention

» Glycolic acid is safe and beneficial for all skin tones

» Helps to restore moisture and plumpness in the skin

» Jumps starts and facilities collagen production

» Softens fine lines + wrinkles

» Helps fade sun spots, hyperpigmentation and post inflammatory pigmentation left over from acne

» Increases cellular turn over

» Gives the skin a "glow"

» Helps other ingredients penetrate better (such as antioxidants + vitamins)

» Smoothes tone + texture

» Helps remove a surface layer of dead skin allowing pores to excrete oil properly and in long-term use prevents blackheads/clogged pores.

»  The long-term effects of glycolic acid sends positive signals to the bottom of the epidermis to produce healthier skin cells. This results in stimulation of collagen and improved fine lines and wrinkles.

Percentage strength + Ph

If you aren't familiar with pH here is a quick chemistry lesson. Potential of hydrogen is the measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The pH scale ranges from 1, being the most acidic and 14, being the most alkaline. A pH of 7 is considered neutral and the ideal healthy pH of the skin is between 4.5-6. When it comes to all acids the lower the pH the stronger the acid and the deeper it will penetrate regardless of percentage strength.

Now, for glycolic acid to be beneficial and essentially work the pH can't be higher than 4.0. Higher would be considered neutral making it ineffective and lower would make it a peel treatment that would need to be neutralized or could basically burn our faces off! Yikes!

ph of glycolic acid

Where is glycolic acid found?

Glycolic acid is found in many versions and formulations of skin care products. Typically they are found in the following: 

Wash Off Products - These are usually cleansers and are a great entry level to glycolic acids since they are applied, washed off and a very light layer of glycolic acid is left on the skin. They are usually found in lower percentages around 3-5% with a higher pH of 3.5-3.8. 

Leave On Products - Leave on products range from toners, serums, peel pads and moisturizers and are designed to leave a treatment layer on the skin. They are often formulated with other skin nutrient ingredients that buffer the product slightly to be gentler and designed to continue to be effective throughout the day and "self-neutralize." This means the skin's natural pH will balance itself out through the day. They are found in mid-range percentages around 5-15% with a higher pH of 3.5-3.8.

Home Peels/Treatments - These types of treatments are found in gel or mask form and are meant to be used a few times weekly for 3-10 minutes. They are a great weekly exfoliation treatment addition a light daily product if your skin can tolerate it.

Professional Strength Glycolic Peels - This type of peel will be a higher percentage, have a lower pH and unbuffered with other ingredients making them potent. They are performed by an esthetician or in a medical setting by a nurse. Professional peels are brushed on to clean prepared skin, left on 1-5 minutes and then removed with water/alkaline solution to neutralize the skin and bring the pH back to a healthy skin level and cease exfoliating activity.

*I will note - I absolutely do not recommend purchasing a professional strength peel from online or Amazon and attempting to perform this yourself at home. I have seen horrific chemical burns and pigmentation from such! 


» Since AHA's including glycolic acid has been shown to thin the skin it can make the skin sensitive in the sun. It's best to use AHA's at night time and SPF during the daytime is a must when using AHA.

» Vitamin C serum and any AHAs should not be mixed. (Your face won't blow up or anything!) The main reason is the pH of the glycolic acid and vitamin C don't play well together and decreases the effectiveness of vitamin C. They can, however, and even should be in alternating routines for fantastic aging prevention. Vitamin C in the a.m. and glycolic acid in the p.m.

» Retinoids and glycolic acid should not be used together as it could lead to over exfoliation, irritation, and redness. They may, however, be used on alternating nights. 

» Since waxing removes a layer of dead skin and is technically considered a physical "exfoliation" method it's best to stop using glycolic acid 3 days prior and 3 days after your waxing appointment. This will help to avoid what is called "skin lifting" which is basically ripping off the skin. 

Is glycolic acid safe during pregnancy + breastfeeding?

Yep, you betcha. According to the The National Center for Biotechnology Information:  "Using topical glycolic acid during pregnancy should not be of concern, as only a minimal amount is expected to be absorbed systemically."

The American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologist also lists glycolic acid as a safe ingredient to use while pregnant. 

adding glycolic aid to your routine + tips

» Since glycolic acid can make your skin sun sensitive I recommend it as a night time product only.

» Jumping straight into a 15% glycolic product is NOT advised. Stronger is not better when it comes to acids as it can cause irritation. Your skin will need to build a tolerance over time. 

» Using more than 1-2 active acid products in your routine is also not advised and will not give you better results. Max 2 if your skin can tolerate it!

» Glycolic Cleanser or Toner - These two are a great way to start incorporating AHA into your routine. I recommend starting with every other night and work into every night.

» Glycolic Serum - With glycolic serums I recommend starting twice a week then working into every other night and if your skin can tolerate it nightly.

» Home Peels/Treatments - These types of treatments are good to use 1-2 times a week depending on skin type/conditions. After your treatment, I recommend a calming, hydrating or nourishing mask and finish with moisturizer. No need for an acid toner that night!  

» If you plan on going on a vacation to a sunny environment I would recommend stopping using glycolic acid a week prior or up your SPF and hat game! 

» Glycolic acid is safe for teens to use to treat clogged pores and acne. 

» Low consistent application will give you the best results!

What to expect

» Mild tingling, itching, and slight pinkness are normal with AHA, especially when first starting out. Burning and redness are NOT and should be removed immediately with cool water. There is definitely a difference between "tingle so good" and burn!

» With leave on glycolic products and home peels you should typically not experience any peeling or skin shedding.

» With a light/superficial professional peel some, but not all people may experience some light peeling and skin shedding. Deeper peels will experience mild to moderate peeling and skin shedding.

» It's working for you = Immediately your skin will look glowy, brighter and will feel smoother to the touch. Over time, pigmentation will appear lighter, lines will soften and pores tighter since you are slowly reducing the gunk that is them stretching them out. (YAY!)

» How to tell if you've over-exfoliated = Your skin will appear red or irritated and you may feel tight, dry or itchy. 

Save me!

Here is a quick reference cheat sheet to save or Pin!

benefits of glycolic acid

Andalou Naturals Pumpkin Glycolic Mask

If you have any questions or would like to know where to add glycolic acid to your routine send me a message!   

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