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The Exfoliating All Star - Glycolic Acid & How to use it

Don’t we all hate when we use an ingredient because it is ‘buzzing’, but it turns out to be a nightmare for our skin? Let’s talk about one such ingredient that you should know about before using it.  

What is Glycolic Acid?

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Glycolic Acid is the smallest molecule, water-soluble alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). It is derived from sugar crops like sugarcane, sugarbeet, sugar maple, chicory, etc. Over the period, Glycolic Acid has garnered a lot of attention of those who want to achieve bright and shiny skin. Other acids from the same family as Glycolic Acid are Tartaric Acid, Lactic Acid, and Citric Acid.

Read more about exfoliating acids here.

How does Glycolic Acid help your skin?

1. Humectant

This acid has the natural tendency to absorb moisture from the surroundings and hence is a good source to gain hydration for your skin.

2. Keratolytic Effect

Glycolic Acid has the smallest molecules, which makes it easy for the acid to penetrate the deeper levels of the skin. Once penetrated, it dissolves the glue-like substance that holds the skin cells together- the desmosome. This is called the ‘Keratolytic Effect’ where the acid penetrates your skin layers and exfoliates dead skin cells. If you use physical exfoliants, you will not be able to achieve such precise exfoliation since it cannot penetrate the skin layers... You may not see the skin scrubbing off but after application, you will feel your skin be more smooth, even-toned, and radiant. The plus part is, if used wisely, it doesn’t disrupt your lipid layer that forms the skin barrier.

3. Collagen Booster

Once Glycolic Acid peels off the dead skin cells, this leads to skin cell renewal which accelerates collagen production and retaining moisture. This is why you see the glowing effect after its application.

4. Melanocyte-Stabilizer

Since it penetrates the deep layers of skin, it can help control the melanin (pigmentation that gathers after a wound like acne, sun damage) production by stabilizing the cells i.e. melanocytes that produce melanin.

What are the benefits of Glycolic Acid?

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1. Reduces Fine Lines and Wrinkles

Just as we mentioned above, Glycolic Acid boosts Collagen production and exfoliates the dirt off your skin. Together this leads to reducing fine lines since the skin has now flattened once the gunk is off. It is not just us speaking, many pieces of research have proven its ability to treat fine lines and wrinkles. There are many claims in the market that Glycolic Acid ‘erases’ or ‘removes’ fine lines but that is not true. Once you have wrinkles, they may not go off. Hence, you must start including anti-aging in the early stage.

2. Hydrates Dry Skin

Glycolic Acid chemically attracts moisture from the surroundings to your skin in a humid climate. When the atmosphere is dry, it will attract whatever is available but in an extremely dry environment, it will prompt the moisture from deep within your skin layer to come on the surface of your skin to improve your skin barrier. However, the moisture from the skin is bound to evaporate quickly. It is recommended that you use an occlusive (thick) moisturiser in dry weather to avoid loss of moisture.

3. Fights Acne

Bacterial growth speeds up when your skin has gunk made up of pollution particles, dead skin, sweat beads retained on the skin, etc, that clogs your pores. Glycolic Acid exfoliates the skin deeply, giving no food for bacteria to eat on

If moderate to severe inflammation due to acne is your problem, then pair Glycolic Acid with Benzoyl Peroxide or Azelaic Acid.

If you’re looking for something to pair with Glycolic Acid and you have oily, sensitive skin, pair it with Salicylic Acid. We swear by Neemli Naturals Glycolic & Salicylic Acid Serum. It does not just have Glycolic and Salicylic Acid but also Niacinamide which enhances its property to treat pigmentation. To soothe your skin, it has Magnolia Bark extract that fights free radicals for a youthful appearance.


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To learn more about mixing and layering ingredients, read our article

4. Brightening and Smoother Skin

It is given that due to its exfoliating property, it reveals a fresh layer of skin that isn’t exposed to any external stressors yet. This is why you get that bright and smooth baby skin.

Fades Hyperpigmentation: Due to its ability to set deep in the skin layers, it can stabilize and control melanin production that gives you those dark spots due to sun damage, acne scars, aging, etc.

Read more about hyperpigmentation and acne scars here.

How Much is too much?

Glycolic Acid is found in the market with varying concentrations. Most of the OTC Glycolic Acid products are within the concentration of 10%. However, concentration isn’t the only factor, there is pH too. A product with a higher concentration of Glycolic Acid and a lower concentration of pH will penetrate and affect the pH of deeper layers of skin. However, you need to be careful while introducing Glycolic Acid to your skin, especially if you have sensitive and hypersensitive skin. 10% is way too much to start with. If you’re a beginner at using active ingredients, start with 2% to 5% concentration. It is very easy to go wrong with acids, so make sure you patch test before using it. While patch testing, if it burns your skin then splash water immediately. Glycolic Acid’s action halts right when it comes in contact with water.

When to use Glycolic Acid?

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If you deem Glycolic Acid to be fit for your skin, you must start with the mildest dose and introduce it by using it twice a week. The results that Glycolic Acid provides are major but if your skin can’t tolerate sudden change in your skincare, then you might end up seeing a major disaster for your skin. This might even end up disrupting your lipid layer which forms the protective barrier for your skin. You don’t want to destroy the lipids!

If you have included Glycolic Acid in your skincare routine, make sure you are including it in just the PM routine only. You must strictly use moisturizer and SPF day and night if you’re using this product since your new skin layer is delicate and needs all the love and care.

Which Age group and Skin Type can use Glycolic Acid?

This product is recommended if you’re in your mid-twenties or older than that. It suits all skin types and in fact, it is recommended for acne-prone skin types. However, if you have sensitive skin then make sure you’re patch testing and starting with a very minimal dose.

An individual with a darker skin tone must consult a dermatologist before using Glycolic Acid. This is because your skin already has a higher amount of melanin(a substance that gives you the brown skin shade) and in case your skin is irritated by Glycolic Acid, it may prompt the cells to produce more melanin to only make you darker.

How to Introduce Glycolic Acid to your Skin?

1. Face Wash or Toners for Beginners

Start with using it in the mildest concentration. You can use a Glycolic Acid-based face wash such as Daughter Earth’s AHA BHA PHA Exfoliating Cleanser or Aminu Essential’s AHA Face Wash if you’re just beginning with this ingredient. Use it on alternate days when you’re starting with it and always follow it with a moisturiser.


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Another way to include this is by using a Glycolic Acid-based toner. We’d recommend Dr Sheth's Gulab & Glycolic Toner. This toner has Calendula and Rose Extracts that calms your skin while Glycolic Acid exfoliates. Its Glycolic Acid concentration is 2.5% which makes it perfect for beginners. Use it twice a week and see if you can build it up from there as your skin allows. If you’re looking for full-body exfoliation, use a mild Glycolic Acid-based body wash like Aminu Zen Mood Aha Body Wash which is combined with Charcoal and Amino Acids from apple juice.


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2. Serum or Peel

Once your skin is used to Glycolic Acid, you can start using serum or masks that have a slightly higher concentration of Glycolic Acid. You can also use Glycolic Acid-based peels once your skin is used to it. You can try Aminu Instant Facial Aha Power Peel whose composition also contains Vitamin E that helps boost the efficacy of AHA’s in the product. It is recommended using potent ingredients like Glycolic Acid in higher concentrations, only once or twice a week. A little bit of redness is normal but it should not feel like you’ve put your skin to fire. If you’re looking for serum instead of peel, we’d recommend- Neemli Naturals Glycolic Acid & Hydrolyzed Collagen Pit Repair Concentrate. This is best for those who are looking for a solution to pitted acne scars and textured skin along with exfoliation. It provides that extra boost of collagen that your skin direly needs to achieve that bright, firm, and glowing skin.

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If your skin is used to the presence of AHA on your skin, you can try Martiderm’s Night Renew Ampoules since they can help you target multiple skin issues like fine lines, dullness, tanning, firmness, and elasticity.

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When to see a Dermatologist?

If you believe that your skin needs a higher concentration of Glycolic Acid, then you must not try to use OTC products. Instead, consult the doctor about what will be the right treatment for your skin. There are many OTC chemical peel products with some really fancy claims. However, you must know that with products like those, you’re putting your skin at more risk. The right thing is sticking to lower concentration!

Summing it up, Glycolic Acid is that star kid in your class who has it all. But use it minimally and make sure your skin is well protected with SPF as your last skincare step!

- Divya Salvi

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