Glycolic Acid

Why add Glycolic Acid to your skin care routine?

Glycolic acid helps facilitate skin's natural exfoliation and minimizes the build-up of dead skin cells to improve the appearance of skin's tone and texture. This alpha-hydroxy acid can be derived synthetically or found naturally in sugar cane, beetroot, grapes, and other fruit.

Glycolic-Acid-Ingredient-SkinCeuticals

What is glycolic acid?

Commonly derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid is the smallest of the alpha hydroxy acids (AHA). This potent ingredient effectively loosens and releases dead and dehydrated cells, increasing the rate of exfoliation on the surface of the skin. This exfoliation promotes cellular turnover, which helps minimize the appearance of fine lines, uneven texture, and dull skin tone.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic Acid Explained

Why is glycolic acid good for skin?

To fully understand why glycolic acid is good for skin, it is important to understand skin’s natural exfoliation process. Every month your skin sheds dull, dead skin cells to reveal newer, healthier cells underneath. On average, this natural exfoliation or cellular turnover occurs every 28 days in young adults. However, as skin ages, cellular turnover slows, resulting in a buildup of dead skin cells that contributes to dull skin or uneven tone and texture.


Glycolic acid is an essential ingredient that helps slough away dead and dehydrated skin cells on the surface layer of the skin. While mechanical exfoliants can cause irritation on more sensitive skin types, glycolic acid provides efficient chemical exfoliation to dissolve the bonds that hold surface dead skin cells, glycolic acid efficiently dissolves the bonds that bind surface dead cells to the skin, providing a gentle, yet effective exfoliation. This accelerated rate of cellular turnover promotes skin clarity and a more even skin tone and skin texture.


Is glycolic acid safe?

Overuse of any chemical or mechanical exfoliating agent can result in redness or irritation. However, in moderate concentrations, glycolic acid can be well tolerated for daily use to help facilitate skin’s natural exfoliation. When considering a glycolic acid treatment for your skincare routine, it is important to identify the right concentration for your specific skin concern.


Concentrations under 4% provide low-level exfoliation and may be used once or twice daily depending on the potency and pH value of the formula. Sometimes glycolic acid may be added to acne formulas at lower levels to enhance skin detoxification and turnover. If looking for an effective nighttime product that primarily targets visible signs of aging such as fine lines, dullness, and skin texture, a 4-10% concentration of pure glycolic acid is recommended. Any glycolic acid formulation featuring a concentration above 20% should be recommended and administered by a skincare professional. This includes chemical peels, which may require pre-conditioning and specific post-procedure care.


Due to the exfoliating nature of glycolic acid, always apply a broad spectrum sunscreen during the day when using these products.

Glycolic Acid

What is the pH level of glycolic acid?

Not all glycolic acid skin care products are created equal. The effectiveness of glycolic acid is determined by its free acid value - the effective amount of acid available to work on your skin. It depends on two factors: acid concentration and overall formula pH. A glycolic acid concentration of 4-10% is ideal for nightly use but a lower pH is necessary to preserve the strength of the glycolic acid for optimal efficacy. As pH levels increase, glycolic acid may become largely neutralized, decreasing the effective acid level and weakening its strength. The key is finding a formula featuring the right balance between glycolic acid concentration and pH levels.

Glycolic Acid

What is a glycolic acid peel?

Simply put, a glycolic acid peel is a chemical peel formulated with glycolic acid as the primary exfoliant in the peel solution. Performed by a skincare professional, these treatments exfoliate and resurface the topmost layer of the skin to reveal new, healthy skin underneath. They are effective in increasing cell turnover, softening the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and improving skin tone and texture. During a glycolic acid peel, one or more layers of the solution are applied onto the skin for a predetermined amount of time based on concentration, skin type, and the patient’s reactivity to the treatment. Once the solution is left on for the desired amount of time, the formula is neutralized with a buffering solution or water.


Following a glycolic acid peel, a skincare professional will apply post-procedure care, which includes a high SPF broad spectrum sunscreen to help protect skin against damaging UVA/UVB rays. After any type of chemical peel, skin is more susceptible to damage from environmental aggressors. Therefore, it is key that sunscreen is applied daily and diligently. Your skincare professional may also recommend advanced homecare to help maintain and protect the results of your glycolic acid peel.


Learn more about chemicals peels >

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