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How to Use Glycolic Acid for Glowy, Gorgeous Skin


Glycolic acid is a powerhouse ingredient in many skin care products. From anti-aging to moisturizing, hyperpigmentation to dullness, glycolic acid treats a number of skin care issues, all without causing dryness or irritating sensitive skin

But what exactly is glycolic acid, and what are the best glycolic acid products you can add to your skin care routine? We answer these questions and more in your ultimate guide to everything glycolic acid.


So What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (or AHAs) derived from sugarcane. The smallest of all the AHAs, glycolic acid is in the same league as other powerful skin care ingredients, like lactic acid and citric acid. Because it's so small and has such a low molecular weight, glycolic acid can actually penetrate your skin's barrier and go deeper than other acids.

So, what does this mean for your skin? Well, it's awesome when it comes to exfoliating, because glycolic acid can slough away dead skin cells like nothing else to reveal your inner glow.

Okay, So What Exactly Does Glycolic Acid Do?

Because of glycolic acid's incredible exfoliating properties, it's found in a variety of exfoliators and chemical peels. But glycolic acid has other skin superpowers, too. Fine lines? No problem. Discoloration? Not to worry–glycolic acid stimulates collagen production, which makes your skin look and feel firmer while also fighting visible signs of sun damage and aging. 

In fact, whether you have acne and clogged pores, or want to soothe dry skin or dullness, glycolic acid is your one-stop stop for radiant, even-toned skin. And, because it's so lightweight, it's less likely than other skin care acids (like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide) to cause irritation for sensitive skin types.

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Can I Use Glycolic Acid With My Skin Type?

If you have normal, combination, or oily skin types, you're likely in the clear for using glycolic acid. While glycolic acid has been shown to be less irritating than some skin care ingredients, those with dry or sensitive skin will want to do a patch test first to see if they're suited for it. 

Also, keep in mind that the time of year can determine whether glycolic is good for you. During the winter, skin tends to be more dry, and the skin barrier can be more sensitive—meaning that glycolic acid can be more irritating. Likewise, the exfoliating effect of glycolic acid during the hot summer months can make you more sensitive to sunlight, so it goes without saying that you need to stock up on your sunscreen whenever you use a product with glycolic acid.

Not sure if glycolic acid will be a fit for you? You can always ask or visit your dermatologist to make sure glycolic acid would be a positive add to your skin care routine.

How Can I Add Glycolic Acid to My Skin Care Routine?

There are tons of ways to integrate glycolic acid into your skin care routine. As always, it's a good idea to start small when using a new skin care ingredient or product, especially if you have sensitive skin. For example, try using a low-dose glycolic acid cleanser first before reaching for a higher percentage product. Spring for glycolic acid products that also have soothing moisturizing ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, to further protect your skin from any dryness or peeling. 

Want some extra guidance when it comes to picking out your new favorite glycolic acid product? We've rounded up our picks for the best glycolic acid skin care products below.

Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment

The Exofiliating Extraordinaire: Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment


SUNDAY RILEY’s Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment is gentle enough for sensitive and dry skin, and effective enough to restore and balance all other skin types. This exfoliating serum penetrates the surface of your skin with tiny glycolic acid molecules, helping to increase cell turnover (aka helping slough away your dead skin cells) and zapping zits along the way. Fermented prickly pear extract soothes sensitive skin, while lemongrass extract brightens and purifies for a smoother, radiant skin tone. Use it day and night as your daily exfoliant–just make sure to slather on the sunscreen before you pop out for the day.

Cane + Austin Acne Retexture Pad

Bust Blemishes: Cane + Austin Acne Retexture Pad


This is an awesome intensive glycolic acid facial treatment for treating blackheads, breakouts, and even acne scars. A combo of glycolic and salicylic acid penetrates the skin to dig out dirt and excess oil (aka sebum). One swipe sloughs away build-up and even acts as an anti-aging product, filling in fine lines and evening out discoloration. With daily use, your skin will glow like never before.

Pistaché Skincare Exfoliating Clay Cleanser with Glycolic Acid

Cleanse & Clarify: Pistaché Skincare Exfoliating Clay Cleanser with Glycolic Acid


Detoxify your skin with this rejuvenating clay-to-foam cleanser that instantly brightens your complexion. The cleanser’s nourishing emollients help hydrate your skin, the combo of physical and chemical exfoliants (hello, clay and glycolic acid) boost your skin's natural radiance for a luminous look. Need some extra TLC? Leave this cleanser on for an extra few minutes–it doubles as a luxurious exfoliating mask, too.

Dermadoctor Ain’t Misbehavin Healthy Toner with Glycolic and Lactic Acid

Tone it Up: Dermadoctor Ain’t Misbehavin Healthy Toner with Glycolic and Lactic Acid


This toner does double-duty thanks to both glycolic and lactic acid, another powerful alpha-hydroxy acid. Cut though excess oil and impurities while promoting cell turnover for fresh, youthful skin. It's also oil-free, so it's great for oily and blemish-prone skin.

Cane + Austin Face & Body Glycolic Acid Scrub

Scrub All Over: Cane + Austin Face & Body Glycolic Acid Scrub


It isn’t just your face that sometimes needs a little extra nourishment–which is why this scrub was formulated for both your face and body. It’s enriched with glycolic and salicylic acids to provide superior exfoliation while soothing and hydrating the skin. It’ll also minimize fine lines and flakiness, too, while preventing blemishes from forming for smooth, clear skin. Glow from head to toe, no matter your skin type.

Sonäge Skincare Glow to Go Glycolic Acid Peel Pads

Glow on the Go: Sonäge Skincare Glow to Go Glycolic Acid Peel Pads

Use these powerful exfoliating pads to renew your glow, especially when you’re traveling and need a quick and easy pick-me-up. They’re exceptional when it comes to treating oily, combination, and blemish-prone skin, and can help with everything from clearing out your pores to minimizing discoloration and hyperpigmentation.

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About the author
Nirmala Nataraj
Ipster, theater buff, red lipstick wearer 4 life
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Article Last Updated March 19, 2020 12:00 AM