We may earn commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. Why trust us?

Here’s What Dermatologists Say Glycolic Acid Can Actually Do to Your Skin

The benefits and side effects of the trendy skincare ingredient.

what is glycolic acid
Getty Images

If you are looking to simplify your skincare routine with a product that provides all the benefits of minimized pores, younger-looking skin and a clear, radiant complexion, keep your eyes peeled (pun intended) for glycolic acid. This miraculous ingredient is an all-in-one solution to your greatest skin troubles from aging to acne— glycolic acid takes care of it all. It’s one ingredient that you should definitely consider adding to your skincare playbook.

So, what is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), an organic, carbon-containing molecule. According to Dr. Jessica Krant, a board-certified dermatologist of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, this molecule naturally occurs in sugar cane and fruits. Some other AHAs you may be familiar with include lactic acid and citrus acid. Note that these should not be confused with beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as salicylic acid.

“Glycolic acid helps to separate the connections between keratinocytes [skin cells] in the outer layers of skin without rough, mechanical exfoliation techniques and promotes exfoliation,” Dr. Krant says. “In this way, it can artificially speed up cell turnover and bring fresher, younger cells to the surface.”

Can anyone use glycolic acid?

“I think people underestimate how much glycolic acid does,” says Dr. Sapna Palep, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Spring Street Dermatology in NYC. “It works for anti-aging. It’s very good for acne. It stops acne from the get-go — from the comedone stage. [Patients] come to me like, ‘I hate these blackheads on my nose, and my pores feel so big.’ I put them on glycolic right away.” Key benefits are:

  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Minimizes appearance of pores
  • Fights acne
  • Removes dead skin cells
  • Evens skin tone

    Another bonus: glycolic acid is safe for new mothers to use, says Dr. Palep. Since certain beauty ingredients, such as BHAs and retinol, should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding, “it’s a lifesaver for women during this period of time.”

    How do I use glycolic acid?

    “Glycolic acid can be found in all sorts of products, from washes to toners to medical grade chemical peels,” says Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist, and founder of Mudgil Dermatology in NYC. “The use really depends on the exact preparation.”

    Regardless of whatever product you choose, you will see benefits from any concentration percentage, says Dr. Krant. “Glycolic acid works every time you use it, and it begins to work immediately.” Dr. Krant advises to only use products with a maximum concentration of 10% at home. “Stronger formulations can be applied by your board-certified dermatologist in-office, but should only be applied by people with extensive experience and training in chemical peels.”

    Are there any side effects of glycolic acid?

    People usually don’t experience side effects from using glycolic acid, but for “those with dry or sensitive skin, it can be irritating,” says Dr. Mudgil. “Low percentage washes can be used daily without issue in those with oily skin, whereas medical grade peels may only be tolerated once a month.”

    Although it’s uncommon, the worst side effects that people can experience is due to uncareful use of higher percentage glycolic acid products. “Glycolic acid is an acid that can burn or scar skin,” warns Dr. Krant. “Excessive redness, a lingering burning sensation, skin turning grayish-white or — worst-case scenario — skin blistering and sloughing off immediately are all signs of possible danger and permanent scarring.”

    What are the best glycolic acid products?

    Because the best products for you will depend on your skin type, you should always consult your dermatologist first. If your skin is more sensitive or dry, look for products that have a lower glycolic acid percentage (around 5%).

    It’s also important to take extra measures to protect yourself from sun damage. Glycolic acid, along with other AHAs, increase your skin’s sensitivity to harmful UV rays. Be sure to generously apply sunscreen, wear hats and stay in the shade to reduce your sun exposure throughout the day.

    This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
    Advertisement - Continue Reading Below