You may have heard the words glycolic acid. The name might ring a bell because it’s one of the most highly trending buzzwords on the skincare scene. It can be found in everything from moisturisers to serums to chemical peels. It can be used day time or night time. It prevails against a variety of different skincare issues. But where did it come from? Why does it work? Can it really be that great? We’ve created a complete breakdown to help you navigate what glycolic acid is really all about. Our complete guide to the benefits of glycolic acid will:
- Uncover the science behind what glycolic acid actually is, in real terms
- Explain ways in which it can benefit your skin
- Address any risks involved with glycolic acid use
- Showcase what you can do to build it into your daily routine
Glycolic acid has been praised throughout the skincare world for its many uses and effortless simplicity.
The science of glycolic acid
Glycolic acid is an ingredient that typically derives from sugar cane and belongs to the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) family, alongside other well-known ingredients like malic and lactic acid. Alpha hydroxy acids are a group of natural acids that are commonly found in all sorts of the foods we surround ourselves with. Citric acid, for example, is found in citrus fruits. Lactic acid is found in soured milks and tomato juice, malic acid is found in apples, tartaric acid is found in grapes, and the list goes on. A range of alpha hydroxy acids are used in skincare and cosmetics, mainly because they are believed to be great at helping to treat dry skin, acne and surface wrinkles.
Glycolic acid is the most popular and certainly the most widely studied of the alpha hydroxy acid family. Its chemical makeup is small compared to other AHA family members, so it is easily absorbed and able to penetrate skin at a very deep level which makes it an effective at helping to combat a variety of skincare woes. Glycolic acid’s known benefits include its anti-ageing properties, effectiveness in treating acne and its ability to exfoliate the skin while maintaining a natural PH balance. Safe for all skin types, glycolic acid is easy to use and an essential part of any skin-care routine.
How can glycolic acid benefit your skin
Because glycolic acid is a small molecule is so small, it has the ability to deeply penetrate the epidermis layer of your skin to stimulate cellular activity. This means it's often added to anti-ageing and anti-blemish treatments in order to hydrate, brighten and tone up your skin. It's an active smoothing ingredient that evens out the skin’s texture and minimises the appearance of wrinkles by increasing cell regeneration and getting rid of excess dead skin cells to leave skin soft, clean and youthfully fresh.
Glycolic acids greatest asset is its ability to help remove the uppermost layer of our skin by breaking down the bonds that bind dead cells together. It essentially works to ‘unglue’ skin cells from each other. Breaking this bond creates a chain reaction that, in turn, boosts the cell renewal and turn over, that leaves your skin feeling clean and looking bright. Using glycolic acid in your exfoliation routine helps to keep your skin's pH level balanced, fade any lingering acne scars and unclog your pores. It’s a truly turbo-charged chemical exfoliant that ensures that your skin reveals itself to be soft and supple.
Safe for all skin types
Probably because ‘acid’ is in the name, glycolic treatments were once only used on those with oily or acne-prone skin. Nowadays, as more and more research has been conducted, glycolic acid is recommended by dermatologists for all skin types, as long as you’re mindful of the formula you’re considering using. Glycolic acid regulates seborrhoea and other difficult to manage skin conditions on young or excessively oily skin and, in opposite effect, both moisturises and brightens mature or dry skin – all depending on the amount of glycolic acid your treatment product contains. (between 2 and 15%).
Glycolic acid is a great addition to all skincare routines. For those who suffer with outbreaks, it’s particularly effective and can fight against a whole range of skin irritation and acne issues. Particularly for cystic acne sufferers, it help to unclog even the deepest blockages of dead skin cells and sebum. This, when combined with other ingredients in your skincare routine, makes it one of the top options for staving off painful spots. Acne scarring is no match for this super AHA either. Much in the same way that it is touted as an elixir of youth and a dream exfoliant, glycolic acid can also help to lessen the appearance of deep acne scars.
Easy to use
What was once a product used in medispas as a part of routine aesthetic medical procedures, glycolic acid is now found in plenty of at-home products – like L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Laser Renew Anti Ageing Glycolic Peel Pads, which are safe for daily use. The best part is that the effects of adding glycolic acid into your routine are compound. The more frequently you use your treatment of choice - we recommend once a day for a prolonged period - the more effective it will be for your skin. It’s an effortlessly simple process that can lead to a multitude of rewards.
The risks involved
As with retinol use, your skin will, in all likelihood, need to get used to glycolic acid before you start to see the benefits. Glycolic acid containing skin care formulas will have different concentrations, so be sure to check the percentage before you buy. If you have sensitive skin, choose a low percentage formula and work your way up. Beginning a glycolic acid routine with a percentage that is too high is more likely to cause redness and irritation.
Be mindful of the other products in your skincare arsenal. While each serves its own incredibly useful purpose, make sure you aren’t doubling up on other products containing Vitamin A or AHAs or your skin could become more sensitive, putting you more at risk of environmental damage.
Sun exposure, when using glycolic acid, becomes a much bigger deal. It’s incredibly important to wear sunscreen on days when you’re using your glycolic treatments, especially if you are applying them in the morning. This is because glycolic acid works to remove the top layer of your skin, putting it at a potentially greater risk of damage and unwanted pigmentation.
Adding glycolic acid into your routine
There are plenty of ways to build glycolic acid-based products into your routine. The best way to determine which works best for you, is to determine why you’re interested in using glycolic acid in the first place. Here are some ways this powerhouse ingredient can be put to good use:
Glycolic acid helps to reduce acne scarring and inflammation
To help fight acne-prone skin, find yourself a good cleanser that contains glycolic acid. We recommend using this cleanser daily either in the morning or just before bed. Avoid using it more than once a day - a little often goes a long way.
Clean your skin with your glycolic acid cleanser of choice thoroughly, as you would with any standard facial cleanser. For those looking to pack an extra punch, follow with a glycolic peel toner, like L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Laser Renew Anti-Ageing Glycolic Peel Pads, daily for six weeks.
If you’re not noticing the changes you were hoping for, simply stop treatments for a couple of weeks to give your skin a break and then start a second round of treatment. You can repeat this same treatment until your skin’s inflammation goes down. If you do repeat your treatments, giving your skin a break between treatment periods is essential to keep your skin’s natural oils intact. The last thing you want to do is strip your skin of its ability to protect your itself from free radicals and harmful bacteria.
If you’re more focused on solving acne scarring than actual inflammation, there’s no need to adhere to a daily schedule. Committing yourself to a light glycolic acid peel routine once or twice a week will help to reduce scarring and give your skin a healthy glow.
Glycolic acid has a range of anti-aging benefits…
Building glycolic acid-based products into an anti-ageing routine couldn’t be simpler. There are a wide range of anti-ageing products that have jumped on the glycolic acid bandwagon, and for good reason.
As mentioned above, when glycolic acid is absorbed into the skin, it makes quick work of separating the ties that hold dead skin cells together. This then helps to give your skin a smoother, more youthful appearance. Once skin cells are separated, glycolic acid help to dissolve the layer of dead skin. This in turn helps to gently exfoliate, while unclogging pores and allowing new skin to breath.
Beyond allowing fresh skin to rise to the surface, glycolic acid aids in minimising discolouration – a common sign of ageing skin – and helps to stimulate the fresh growth of natural wonder protein: collagen. Now, you’re starting to see why we rave about this miracle molecule.
Applying glycolic acid little and often is favoured over a more extreme approach, and the best way to work glycolic acid into your anti-ageing routine is to add in a simple, low-dose product daily. Incorporating your favourite glycolic acid containing product into your daily routine takes the guesswork out of counting what day of the week your treatment falls on. It also saves a costly visit to the dermatologist or medispa for a routine chemical peel.
Glycolic acid helps to exfoliate and fight dryness…
If you’re less concerned about acne or wrinkles but find yourself with pesky dry patches or unevenness that you’d like to treat, consider glycolic acid an easy ally to the cause.
We’ve already mentioned all the ways that glycolic acid works to slough off dead skin cells, but did we mention that it also helps to attract moisture from the air, coaxing it into the skin to increase hydration and minimise any additional dryness? Amazing, right? Not only that, but it’s a great product to use in the morning in the form a cleanser or serum because it helps to prep your skin for other product use. It sets your skin up for smearing on your favourite moisturiser and even smoothes your skin, ready for your makeup application.
To use it for exfoliation, consider using it in conjunction with a secondary moisturiser. L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Laser Renew Home Peel Kit can be used for a multitude of benefits, including exfoliation and hydration.
The kit contains L’Oréal Paris’s Revitalift Laser Renew Anti Ageing Glycolic Peel Pads and L’Oreal Paris’s Laser Renew Advanced Anti Ageing Care SPF 20. The former of the two products contains ready-to-use glycolic acid pads that are perfect for incorporating daily exfoliation into your routine. The second product is all about protecting your fresh new skin cells from the harmful effects of UVA/UVB rays. This cream is enriched with a 3% concentration of Pro-Xylane™ and LHA, all wrapped up in a triple action formula that when combined helps to refirm, refine, and shield your skin from damage. A kit like this is perfect for daily use. We’re pretty sure you’ll notice a transformation in your skins luminosity and smoothness in no time at all.
What to consider when using glycolic acid
Beyond these more specific routines, there are a few other things you might like to consider when choosing the glycolic product that works best for your skin type. Night creams should be progressively applied. Begin using them once a week, followed by every 3 nights if your skin responds well to the initial inclusion in your regimen. Peeling treatments can be applied once or twice a week for a gentle, exfoliating action. They don’t necessarily need to be used every single day to be effective. In many cases, less is more. Dermatologists use higher concentrations of glycolic acid (20 to 70%) to remove several layers of skin over a short, set period of time. In your at home products, lower concentration glycolic acid products used over a more frequent period of time have been shown to be just as effective. It’s all about what works best for you, your skin type, and your routine
The benefits of glycolic acid
Glycolic acid works across the board as an anti-ageing product. It removes excess and dead skin cells, it boosts cell turnover (which in turn decreases the dips that form wrinkles) and it is an active cheerleader of collagen production, spurring it on from first use.
Glycolic acid actively helps to combat active acne inflammations at the exact same time as it works to reduce previous acne scarring. This one-two punch makes it a favourite of acne sufferers the world over.
Glycolic acid is an exfoliation expert. It’s easily absorbed into the skin and because it unbinds dead skin cells from healthy new ones, it releases and removes dry patches with expert precision. It’s also highly hydrating. These two powers combined and it’s unstoppable (especially in the winter).
Glycolic acid-based products are incredibly easy to find on your local skincare shelf and these products offer something for everyone. Consider your needs when choosing what routine will work best for your needs, there’s very little user error to be found here – just make sure there’s not too high of a concentration for your skin’s sensitivity level.
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