Glycolic acid is one of a group of acids known as Alpha Hydroxy Acids or AHAs. These acids are found in milk, sugar cane and fruit. The glycolic acid has a smaller molecular structure and is better able to penetrate the deeper layers of skin. It is also one of the most common and has the reputation of being one of the safest forms of AHAs on the market.
While glycolic acid naturally derives from sugar cane, much of what is sold on the market today is manufactured in the lab.
Glycolic acid is a natural exfoliant, helping to remove the outer layer of dead skin and, over time, improves the appearance of your skin. It can lighten discolorations, help with acne prone skin and give you a more youthful appearance within just a few weeks.
Products using glycolic acid come in a variety of different strengths. Anything below 4% is good for hydrating your skin. Concentrations between 5 and 7 percent will help to exfoliate the skin and higher concentrations will show some improvements in the texture of the skin. However, like most things, more is not always better.
You should not use products with concentrations above 15% or mix products to get a concentration above 15%. This will cause a burn which may mimic a chemical peel but will not net you the same results.
If you would like a chemical peel to remove discolorations or improve the texture of your skin, seek out the care of a dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon who can carefully assess your individual situation and recommend a product that will work best on your skin. There are signficant side effects to chemical peels that can be permanent. In the care of an uneducated individual you may have significant and lifelong facial scaring after a chemical peel.
Research in the International Journal of Dermatology found that chemical peels with glycolic acid were effective for the treatment of acne scarring, but it required at least 6 treatments to get good improvement. They also found that there was some useful effect on scars by people who couldn’t tolerate the peel and used a low-strength cream on a daily basis. (1)
Glycolic acid also has some antioxidant effects on the skin which will help to improve the overall tone and texture of the skin over time. Researchers demonstrated that the use of glycolic acid on the skin over a 3 week period of time left the skin with an SPF of approximately 2.4. The skin also showed accelerated healing when exposed to irradiation which supports the theory that these acids act as an antioxidant. (2) However, they do NOT replace sun screen.
(1) International Journal of Dermatology: Biweekly serial glycolic acid peels vs long-term aily use of topical low strength glycolic acid in the treatment of atrophic acne scars
(2) Dermatologic Surgeons: Photoprotective and antiinflammatory effects of topical glycolic acid
Dermotology Clinics: The Use of Glycolic Acid as a peeling agent
EverydayHealth: Glycolic Acid at Home
Park Avenue Dermatology: Glycolic Acid Facial Peels