Glycolic Acid: What It's Used For, How to Use & Side Effects

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid produced from sugar cane and other sweet vegetables. It is used in the manufacture of cosmetic products, as it is easily absorbed by the skin. It can be applied to reduce expression lines, treat acne or lighten blemishes on the skin.

Glycolic acid can be found in creams, gels, lotions, soaps or serums for daily use, or it can produced with a a stronger concentration for the use of chemical peelings, which should be carried out by a dermatologist or qualified professional.

The use of glycolic acid should be prescribed by a dermatologist, depending on the health goal. Different products will contain different concentrations of glycolic acid, and it is important to note higher concentrations can cause skin irritation or redness, especially on sensitive skin.

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What it's used for

Glycolic acid is typically used for:

  • Rejuvenating the skin
  • Reducing or preventing wrinkles and expression lines
  • Keeping skin firm and soft
  • Reducing sagging
  • Increasing hydration
  • Softening and brightening the skin
  • Keeping pores clean
  • Promoting skin exfoliation
  • Preventing acne and ingrown hairs
  • Reducing the appearance of scars caused by acne
  • Lightening blemishes on the skin caused by acne, melasma or the sun
  • Increasing firmness and softness
  • Controlling skin oil
  • Helping to treatment stretch marks.

Glycolic acid can renew skin cells  through exfoliation and peeling, as well as stimulate collagen production to ensure firmness and elasticity of the skin.

Furthermore, due to the removal of dead cells, glycolic acid facilitates the absorption of other substances used on the skin, like moisturizers or lighteners.

Treatment with glycolic acid should be prescribed by a dermatologist, who will be able to advise on the ideal form of use and quantity for each skin type.

How to use

Before starting to use glycolic acid, you should consult a dermatologist for a skin assessment. This way, the best product with adequate concentrations of glycolic acid can be recommended.

Glycolic acid can be used during your morning or night skin routine. When applied in the morning, first wash the face face with soap and water or a cleansing gel suitable for you skin type. Then apply a serum to ensure skin protection. After it dries, apply the product with glycolic acid, prioritizing the areas to be treated, and then apply sunscreen. When applied at night, wash your face and then use glycolic acid.

When used in cosmetic products, in the form of creams or lotions, glycolic acid is found in concentrations of 1 to 10%. For procedures like chemical peels, this acid can be found in concentrations of up to 70%. depending on the objective of the treatment. 

Possible side effects

Although glycolic acid is considered safe to be safe for use, some people, especially those with more sensitive skin, may experience redness, burning, sensitivity to light, burning and scarring with use. 

To avoid unwanted side effects, be sure to consult a dermatologist before starting any any skin treatments. The doctor can assess your skin type and advise what procedures and products are safe and beneficial.

Furthermore, it is important to apply sunscreen daily, with SPF 30 or more, as recommended by the dermatologist according to the skin type, as skin can become more sensitive with glycolic acid and increase the risk for a sun burn.

Contraindications for use

Glycolic acid should not be used by pregnant women or by people with active skin infections, sunburns, eczema, skin inflammation, active herpes sores, or very sensitive skin.

Furthermore, it should also not be used on people with darker skin, as it can cause blemishes on the skin.