Glycolic acid is one of the most commonly used skin care ingredients. It can treat a wide range of skin complaints including wrinkles, acne, scars and stretch marks, hyperpigmentation, dry skin, and sagging skin. You can find glycolic acid skin care products in various strengths. Some produce a peeling effect, which is desirable when removing wrinkles and scars. Milder products provide good exfoliation and can help treat acne and dry/oily/combination skin.
Glycolic acid is the most popular of the alpha hydroxy acids, or AHA’s. These acids exfoliate the skin by reducing cell adhesion. In layman’s terms, they dissolve the glue that holds skin cells together. This can produce a peeling effect and lead to wonderfully smooth skin. Some people are apprehensive to use an acid on their skin. But these acids are found in nature and have been used for hundreds of years. Cleopatra loved the way milk baths left her skin so smooth, and this was due the milk’s natural lactic acid content. Sugar scrubs naturally produce low levels of glycolic acid when mixed with water. Lower levels of AHA’s (5% -10%) are typically safe for daily use for most people.
Glycolic acid is used in leave on and rinse off products. Creams, lotions, serums and gels, typically contain low levels of glycolic acid and are left on the skin. Peels and pads contain higher percentages of glycolic acid and are rinsed off. You can mix glycolic acid skin care products, and use them in conjunction with other treatments, like microdermabrasion and wrinkle creams.
The percentage of the product is only one part of determining how strong it is. You also need to consider the pH. The acidity of the product influences its ability to peel the skin. The lower the number, the stronger the product. Most products range between 2.5 and 4.5, but extremely acidic formulas with a pH of 1.9 can be found as well. Not all concentrations will produce a peel, which is where dead skin is literally peels off in the following days, similar to a sunburn healing. To get a good peel, look for something with a pH of less than 3.5 and a concentration of 15% or higher. Use extreme caution when going above 30%.
Your skin needs time to adjust to using glycolic acid skin care products. Don’t peel your face with a strong product when you are just starting out. Glycolic acid side effects include hyper-pigmentation, redness, chemical burns, and scarring. Work your way up by starting off with lotions and serums of 10% or less before moving to peels. No matter what, serious results take time. You’ll be able to use a strong peel with only minor irritation if you use milder products for a few weeks beforehand.
People with both dry and oily skin can benefit from glycolic acid. It can help control greasiness and clean out the pores. It can even help reduce the size of large pores. Dry skin often has a layer of dead skin cells that prevent moisturizers from getting to the live and healthy skin. Glycolic acid exfoliates off this layer of dry skin, allowing the skin to retain hydration. Even sensitive skin can benefit from glycolic acid because there is no friction involved like with other types of manual exfoliation.
Glycolic acid treatments help people with acne or wrinkles, or both. Treating acne typically only needs low levels of acid to produce results. However if you are trying to remove or reduce wrinkles or fine lines, stronger products that produce a peel are needed. Another nice effect for aging skin is increasing skin firmness. After using glyolic acid skin care products for several months, many people report a skin tightening effect in addition to skin smoothing. Follow up with wrinkle cream or lotion for maximum anti aging benefits when adding glycolic acid to your skin care regime. Exfoliation of any type makes wrinkle creams more effective.
Glycolic acid like all AHA’s makes your skin extremely sensitive the sun for a week or two after treatments. You must use a good sunscreen regularly, especially if you are using strong peels, or a leave on product. If you skip this step, you won’t get all the benefits of AHA’s because your skin will be damaged by the sun.
Many people think of glycolic acid and other chemical peels as something you only use on your face, but it can benefit body skin as well. Chicken skin, or keratosis pilaris, which are little bumps commonly found on the back of arms and the thighs, can be cleared up with a glycolic or lactic acid lotion or cream. You can also remove scars and stretch marks with glycolic acid peels combined with skin renewal creams that contain active ingredients like Vitamin C, Retinoids, or copper peptides. It can also firm skin on the rest of the body with continued use. The most overlooked parts of the body are the neck, chest, and hands. People treat their aging face but forget these tell tale areas. Use glycolic acid to treat aging all over the body not just the face.
Although glycolic acid skin care products usually produce some immediate results, you need to use them consistently to get major benefits such as scar and wrinkle reduction. Work your way up to strong products that peel, don’t start off there. And remember, you absolutely must use sunscreen when using any alpha hydroxy acid.