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What Does Glycolic Acid Do for Your Skin?

This powerful resurfacing ingredient can significantly improve your skin care routine.
January 06, 2023


If you’re into skin care, you’ve likely come across many glycolic acid products on store shelves. It’s long been a mainstay in dermatologist offices and the interest in glycolic acid for everyday use has spiked in recent years.  

As such, if you’re on the hunt for a new skin care product to add to your daily regimen, you have plenty of options formulated with this popular ingredient that you can choose from, ranging from facial cleansers to moisturizers to serums. But before you add this key active to your regimen, you may want to learn about glycolic acid benefits, side effects and topical application options. 

Keep reading to get the rundown on the beauty benefits of glycolic acid, and some amazing products to help you reap them.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

First things first, if you’re new to this ingredient, let’s define what it is before we discuss how to use it. Glycolic acid is one of the most common alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) used in cosmetics, and according to the Mayo Clinic, AHAs are a substance that can help exfoliate dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, as well as helping lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
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What Are the Benefits of Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid has a lot of benefits, and its versatile nature is what makes it a skin care favorite.

1. Younger-Looking Skin

Glycolic acid can contribute to the appearance of younger-looking skin, since it helps shed dead skin cells and lessen the appearance of dark spots, as the American Academy of Dermatology reports. 

2. Faster Product Absorption

Alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid can prep your skin to better absorb your other skin care products, leading to more effective results.

3. Fewer Wrinkles

The U.S. National Library of Medicine also states that in addition to resurfacing the skin and evening skin tone, glycolic acid can also minimize the appearance of wrinkles. 

4. Reduction of Dark Spots

Glycolic acid is also recognized as an effective anti-aging resurfacing ingredient for evening skin tone and dark spots.

What Are the Disadvantages of Glycolic Acid?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, side effects of AHAs like glycolic acid include mild irritation to the skin and increased sun sensitivity. Your skin barrier can also be damaged if you’re exposed to the sun while using AHAs, as the National Center For Biotechnology Information reports. If you notice any skin irritation, decrease your use of your glycolic acid product, make sure to use a hydrating moisturizer, and see a dermatologist if the irritation continues.

How to Use Glycolic Acid Safely

Before you start using a skin care product formulated with glycolic acid, make sure you’re prepared. Alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid can increase your skin’s sun sensitivity, so you’ll need to take sun safety and protection seriously. The FDA recommends using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and limiting sun exposure, which means seeking shade and avoiding the sun during its peak hours.

Additionally, you may want to start slow with your glycolic acid product to avoid any potential irritation. Start by using your new product two to three times per week, and build up to nightly use.

How to Choose the Right Glycolic Acid Product for You

If you’re a first time user of glycolic acid, speaking to a dermatologist before adding it to your routine is important so you don’t cause any damage or irritation to your skin. If you’ve used glycolic acid before, adding a new product to your routine will depend on your skin care needs and whether you prefer it in your cleansing step, moisturizer, or serum.

To add glycolic acid to your skin care routine, take your pick of one of the products below. 

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 3.5% Glycolic Acid Cleanser

This cleansing gel removes makeup, excess oil, dirt and impurities from the skin’s surface, and the combination of glycolic acid and salicylic acid helps refine the appearance of enlarged pores while revealing smoother, brighter skin. This is a great introduction to glycolic acid and it’s an easy way to add it into your routine as the first step.

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Daily Scrub Cleanser

This daily facial cleanser is formulated with glycolic acid to exfoliate dullness and impurities from the surface of the skin. Your skin will look brighter, while your overall tone will appear more even with continued use. This cleanser can be used morning and night.

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum

This resurfacing serum uses pure glycolic acid to visibly even your skin tone and reduce dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles. The serum is best for nighttime usage, and you should apply it before moisturizer. In the morning, be sure to apply SPF at the end of your skin care routine to protect your photosensitive skin.

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 5% Glycolic Acid Peeling Toner

For gentle exfoliation, this daily toner will smooth your skin’s texture and leave you with glowing, smoother, and brighter skin. Apply the toner at night with your fingers or saturate a cotton pad with the product and then sweep it across your face before moving on to moisturizer.

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Daily Peel Pads

If you’ve never tried a peel pad before, this brightening daily product is easy to use. The multi-ply textured pads infused with glycolic acid physically remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Your complexion will look brighter and feel softer, while your skin tone is more even and texture more refined with continued use over time. Use the pads nightly on cleansed skin, avoiding your eyes. 

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Day Moisturizer SPF 30

Formulated with pro-retinol and vitamin C along with glycolic acid, this daytime moisturizer immediately makes skin appear brighter, while any dull, uneven skin tone will be renewed over time. This moisturizer is also formulated with SPF 30 for UV protection, so apply as directed, and don’t forget about the other sun protection measures you should be taking daily.

Next: How to Use Vitamin C, Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid Together for Your Skin

Photo Credit: Matthew Zach

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