7 Ways to Use Glycolic Acid in Your Skin Care Regimen

BY Gracee Tolentino · October 31, 2019

SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight and Glycolic Renewal Cleanser

Glycolic acid may not be anything new—it’s common in skin care products and in-office chemical peels—but not everyone knows how effective it can be as part of a regimen. Learn the inner workings of this amazing ingredient, and find out how you can leverage it to solve some of your most pressing issues.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

“Glycolic acid put skin care on the map in the ’90s,” says board-certified, Beverly Hills–based dermatologist Dr. Vicki Rapaport, M.D. “It was the first ingredient that was either incorporated into a take-home cream or done in a peel that actually did anything without breaking the bank or requiring anesthesia.”

A derivative of sugarcane, glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), a group of naturally occurring “fruit acids” that can be found in foods. AHAs work by loosening the glue-like substance that holds dull and dead skin cells on the topmost layer of your skin, revealing newer, healthier skin. It also stimulates new cell generation, resulting in improved skin texture, tone and a brighter complexion. And because glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size of all the AHAs, it’s the most bioavailable and active, allowing it to penetrate the skin the most easily.

But that’s not all. Aside from providing instant rejuvenation, glycolic acid has also been shown to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, which means that with continuous use, glycolic acid can actually accelerate skin healing and reduce signs of environmental damage.

What Else Does Glycolic Acid Do?

Some dermatologists also favor glycolic acid over other acids to improve skin issues like blackheads, hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, psoriasis, keratosis pilaris and hyperkeratosis, among others. It also removes excess oil, just as it relieves dry and scaly skin conditions. “In my experience,” says dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry, “I find it to be more effective and with fewer side effects than other acid.”

How to Use Glycolic Acid

Now that you know how glycolic acid works, the next step is to find a way to make glycolic acid work for you. Of course, nothing beats a visit to your dermatologist or esthetician’s office for a series of professional peels, but maintenance at home is crucial!

1. As an Overnight Cream: SkinCeuticals' Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight

Why we love it: Aside from the fact that it’s from a dermatologist-recommended brand? This night cream has the right glycolic acid concentration and pH value to give you a true free glycolic acid value of 10%. This concentration offers a sweet spot between maximum efficacy and tolerability, meaning you can use this as a nightly treatment without worrying about irritation. You can even use this as an alternative treatment if your skin can’t tolerate retinol.

Why shoppers love it: “Hands down, this is one of the best products on the market. It is gentle, yet it has amazing results. After I use it, my skin looks tighter, brighter and definitely more youthful! This product will always be in my skin care arsenal.”

2. As an Everyday Cleanser: SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Gel Cleanser

Why we love it: Using this cleanser in tandem with its companion overnight treatment (above) can help maximize your glowing results. The pair together has been clinically proven to improve radiance, reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles and enhance skin’s evenness and clarity.

Why shoppers love it: This cleanser is amazing! My skin feels so smooth and has a brighter appearance just after one wash.”

3. As an Exfoliating Moisturizer: Peter Thomas Roth 10% Glycolic Solutions Moisturize

Why we love it: If you don’t like having a multi-step skin care routine, this exfoliating moisturizer tackles both steps in one go.

Why shoppers love it: “So excited about this moisturizer! I incorporated it into my nighttime routine and wake up to a noticeable difference in my skin! I struggle with milia and this seems to be helping! Does exactly what it says it’s going to do! Highly recommend!”

4. As a Light Peel: REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask

Why we love it: Powered by natural fruit acids, glycolic, lactic, citric and tartaric, this radiance-enhancing mask improves skin tone and texture while visibly reducing signs of sun damage, hyperpigmentation and acne-scarring.

Why shoppers love it: “I got a sample of this mask and really like it! I always wait til too late to mask at night, but this one only takes 10 minutes. You feel a difference in your skin as soon as you take it off, and my wrinkles definitely soften!”

5. As a Whitehead Remover: COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid

Why we love it: This whitehead treatment features 7% glycolic acid to gently exfoliate the skin, dissolve whiteheads and other pore-clogging impurities, and tighten pores. It also features niacinamide that helps brighten acne marks.

Why shoppers love it: “This got rid of my forehead bumps and basically prevented acne, it’s like magic.”

6. As a Body Lotion: Paula's Choice RESIST Skin Revealing Body Lotion with 10% AHA

Why we love it: This body lotion has been specially formulated with 10% glycolic acid to help you attain smoother, softer skin from the neck down. Creamy yet lightweight, this leave-on exfoliant removes built-up layers of dead skin, while also improving the appearance of hard, clogged, red bumps on arms and legs.

Why shoppers love it: “This exfoliating lotion is low key, but high performing. I love how gentle it [is]; I’m seriously amazed by how it works really, really well. It works well on my KP.”

7. For Rough or Callused Feet: Baby Foot Easy Pack - Original Deep Skin Exfoliation for Feet 

Why we love it: This product features a pair of socks pre-filled with an advanced blend of plant extracts and exfoliants to smooth and soften rough, callused feet. Glycolic, malic and lactic acids slough off hardened, dead skin to promote a soft texture and new cell growth to leave feet looking and feeling supple. Read what happened when we tried Baby Foot.

Why shoppers love it: “Baby Foot booties removed more dead skin than other methods I tried. It smelled great (lavender) and were easy to use.”

Gracee Tolentino author photo

Gracee Tolentino

Gracee Tolentino is the former managing editor of the Dermstore Blog. After spending 10 years of her writing and editing career working in the travel and food industries, she finally found her true calling: beauty, health and wellness. In her spar... Read More >

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