Glycolic acid is a powerful skin care ingredient, but it comes with risks. Glycolic acid side effects can be quite serious. People can end up with worse skin damage than they started off with if they don’t use glycolic acid products carefully. It is a very acidic chemical that can burn and scar your skin, but when used properly, it is extremely effective at removing or reducing skin damage like wrinkles, scars, and discoloration. Don’t be intimidated by glycolic acid. Learn how to use it correctly.
If you are currently experiencing an adverse reaction to glycolic acid, don’t panic. Common glycolic acid side effects include scabbing, peeling, and brown or black streaks or spots. Your skin may be red, inflamed, and itchy. It is extremely important not to pick at the skin, no matter how bad it looks. You should moisturize your skin will all natural facial lotions and creams, preferably something that contains soothing botanical ingredients like oat, aloe, or chamomile. Don’t use any form of exfoliation, like a facial scrub. Don’t apply any strong anti aging products containing any acids, Vitamin C, or retinoids like retinol. Don’t wear any make up for at least a few days, and when you start wearing it again, use all natural mineral makeup. You need to give you skin time to heal, which can take a while. Most importantly, you need to protect your skin from the sun to prevent further damage. Avoid sun exposure for a few days if possible. Choose sun protective clothing like a hat over sun block for the first few days if your skin is really inflamed and sun block is painful to apply. Use a natural sun block containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide if you are going to be outside at all, even if it is cloudy. Pamper your skin and use sun protection every day until your skin has completely healed, which can take a few months if you’ve experienced a bad burn.
Alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid cause your skin to be sensitive to sun exposure. It will burn easier for at least a week following each application, and also has a higher risk of developing hyperpigmentation. It is extremely important to use sun protection daily, even on cloudy days or when you are only going to be in the sun for a few minutes. Even if you don’t experience negative glycolic acid side effects like irritation following your treatment, you still run the risk of skin damage because of sun exposure. Uneducated users have ended up with far worse dark spots on their face than they started with following a chemical peel because they skipped sun block.
Most people experience negative glycolic acid side effects because they use too strong of a concentration too fast. Your skin needs time to adjust to the acidity of these formulations. Don’t start off using a glycolic acid peel. It is too strong for the vast majority of new users. The strength of glycolic acid skin care products is determined by their concentration and pH. Products containing 15% or more with a pH of 3.5 or less are likely to produce a peeling effect, which is where most people run into problems. If you would like to use peels, start off with a glycolic acid cream or lotion. These products have a more neutral pH, lower concentration, and a soothing moisturizing base. Most glycolic lotions and creams will contain between 5% and 10%, though this information may not be listed on the product label. Stronger formulations will typically list the concentration, but usually not the pH. Most people can start of using a 10% glycolic acid lotion or cream daily, or every other day. Sensitive skin should start out with 5%. Use your mild product for a few weeks before trying a stronger product like a peel. Use the mildest glycolic facial peel you can find, typically between 15% and 20%. If you are visiting a professional for a peel, you should use milder products at home first. A good dermatologist or esthetician will give you this advice but many do not, which is why people experience adverse reactions even under the care of a professional.
It is important not to use strong concentrations of glycolic acid too often. This can lead to over exfoliation. You need to give your skin time to recuperate after a strong exfoliation treatment like a chemical peel. Treat it with extra moisturizers and active ingredients that gently renew skin like low concentrations of Vitamin C and peptides like the GHK-Cu copper peptide. People sometimes experience glycolic acid side effect by using other strong ingredients like high concentrations of Vitamin C or retinoids too soon after a peel or glycolic acid serum that has a peeling effect.
Brown or black skin types can experience excessive skin lightening when using glycolic acid products. This is typically gradual and temporary. Lactic acid may be a better choice for people with dark skin.
Most people will avoid experiencing negative glycolic acid side effects by using products correctly and caring properly for the skin after strong treatments like a peel. Remember to introduce glycolic acid into your routine gradually and be vigilant about using sun protection.