Glycolic Acid

Taking good care of your skin is not only about eating right and living a healthy life, but putting the right products on your skin that are going to keep it young and healthy looking. For many, that means using glycolic acid.

What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is part of the alpha hydroxy family of natural ingredients. Glycolic acid is used for acne treatments as well as anti-aging treatments.

Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is essentially a fruit acid. It is applied to the skin and can be found in concentrations that range from very low (such as 3%) up to much higher concentrations used by dermatologists for in-office treatments.

Because glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane, it is considered a natural product and falls under the same classification as citric acid from citrus fruits like lemons and oranges.

People can use glycolic acid products for a variety of reasons relating to anti-aging to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and to make the skin look smoother, tighter and younger looking overall. It is also used as an acne treatment.

Uses for Glycolic acid

Let’s look further at how glycolic acid is used. If you are worrying about aging skin, someone might recommend that you use a glycolic acid treatment product to refresh and refine the skin.

As you get older, your skin has a harder time turning over new skin cells, particularly on the face. The regeneration still happens, but at much slower pace than when you’re younger.

Glycolic acid works as an exfoliant. Because it’s highly acidic but is also highly soluble, it goes under the damaged areas of the skin and essentially “burn” off the top layer of skin. When washed off, it leaves behind smoother skin that is also more youthful looking.

Glycolic acid is also found in many acne treatments. By removing that top layer of skin, the newer (healthier) skin below the acne layer can be revealed, resulting in less oily and acne-prone skin.

The level of acidity is determined by the product used. If you have the procedure done at a dermatologist’s office, it could have as much as 50% or more concentration of glycolic acid, while many over the counter products that contain glycolic acid along with other ingredients might only have a very low concentration.

Glycolic acid can be found in over-the-counter facial cleansers and treatment creams and in chemical peels applied by dermatologists.


While glycolic acid is a safe product and is generally without side effects, there are some precautions to be aware of.

If you have very sensitive skin, be careful when using products that contain glycolic acid. This product can be harsh to people with very sensitive skin. If you find that your skin is irritated or red, or is burning after using a glycolic acid product, you might consider discussing the issue with a dermatologist and also trying a product with a lower concentration of glycolic acid. Using a lower concentration often takes care of any sensitivity problems.

If you use a glycolic acid cleanser on your skin everyday, make sure you also wear a good sunscreen. It’s believed that glycolic acid can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. This is particularly true if you are already sensitive to the skin (you are very fair skinned, for example).