What is Glycolic Acid & How Does it Benefit the Skin?

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is a substance that chemically exfoliates the skin, dissolving oils and dead skin cells. It can be naturally found in certain plants and is a popular ingredient in many skincare products. Glycolic acid belongs to a group of acids called alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Of the different types of AHAs, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular structure, which allows it to penetrate onto the skin.

How Glycolic Acid Works

Glycolic acid works by speeding up a process called cell turnover. It dissolves the bonds that hold skin cells together, allowing dead skin cells to shed more quickly than they would naturally. It also triggers the production of collagen, a protein that is vital to help with the appearance of plump and firm looking skin.

What It Does for Your Skin

For individuals with acne, glycolic acid can be beneficial for eliminating clogged pores. It can also help to maintain moisture instead of drying out the skin like other anti-acne agents. It also has an antibacterial and antioxidant quality, which can help to improve the skin’s overall appearance.

How it Benefits the Skin

Research has shown that glycolic acid can be used to achieve the following benefits:

Fights Acne

When used in a chemical peel, glycolic acid has been found to improve the appearance of all types of acne, particularly comedonal acne.

Reduces Fine Lines & Wrinkles

As we age, our skin can lose its plumpness and elasticity, resulting in fine lines and wrinkles. Glycolic acid can increase the levels of hyaluronic acid in the skin, keeping the skin appearing moisturized. It has also been known to help stimulated collagen production, and improves elasticity, all of which help to keep the skin looking smooth and youthful.

Addresses Discoloration

Because glycolic acid sloughs away dead skin cells, it can help to fade the appearance of discoloration or unevenness in your skin. This could include skin damage, age, spots, dark spots, acne scar, and hyperpigmentation.

Increases Product Absorption

The exfoliating properties of glycolic acid can better prepare your skin for product application, and also allows for better penetration and absorption of skincare products.

Possible Side Effects

There are many glycolic acid products available today that are made for at-home use and are safe and effective for most people. However, you should be aware that glycolic acid increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so It is important to apply SPF daily.

Because glycolic acid is also an exfoliator, it may also cause skin dryness. However, this can easily be corrected with the use of moisturizing products after the use of this acid.

Glycolic Acid Products

There are many different skincare products that contain glycolic acid. If you are a new user of glycolic acid it is best to begin with a product with a low potency to allow your skin to adjust and then build up to stronger products with time.


Facial cleansers that contain glycolic acid are a great way to incorporate this effective ingredient into your daily skincare routine. You simply use it as you would any other type of cleanser for cleaner, softer, and smoother looking skin.


Liquid toners that contain glycolic acid a great for sloughing away dead skin cells and clearing our clogged pores. Be sure to only use toners once a day, preferably at night, to help minimize sun sensitivity.

Creams & Moisturizers

With a glycolic acid face cream, you can benefit from this AHA while keeping your skin appearing moisturized and helping to combat any drying effects. Glycolic acid creams can help with the appearance skin dullness and even skin texture to help exfoliate the skin.

While glycolic acid is commonly used in cleansers and toners, we have added it to a lotion with our Glycolic Lotion Skin Peel 5% and 10%. As a lotion, this product is gentle enough to be used daily to eliminate the appearance of dead skin cells and clogged pores.

Professional Treatments

There is also a selection of professional facial treatments which use glycolic acid at dermatology offices, cosmetic surgery practices, or medical spas. These include professional-grade chemical peels to treat the deeper layers of the skin layers. If you are looking for deeper glycolic acid treatments, seek out a skilled professional in your area.

Professional-Grade Skincare Products from Epicuren

At Epicuren Discovery, we offer a number of professional formulas to help your skin look and feel its best. Find out which products are best tailored to your skin type and goals by taking our Skin Quiz today.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does glycolic acid do to your face?

Glycolic acid helps exfoliate the skin, resulting in a peeling effect that helps skin to appear more even and smooth.

Is it OK to use glycolic acid every day?

It is generally OK to use 1-2% containing glycolic acid products daily. However, you should always seek professional advice before adding products to your skincare routine.

What is the benefit of using glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is ideal for exfoliating the skin, and has been known to help boost collagen production, for a more youthful complexion.

What skin type is glycolic acid good for?

Glycolic acid can be beneficial for normal, combination, and oily skin types. However, those with dry skin or sensitive skin may find it too irritating.

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