If you’ve been around the Internet for the past few months and have even a passing interest in skincare then there’s no way on God’s not-so-green Earth that you wouldn’t have heard of glycolic acid and it supposedly being a miracle cure for all your skincare woes.
Now we’re all guilty of impulse shopping skincare that works oh-so-well in the filter-laden reels of our favourite Instagram influencers, but you must pump the breaks when it comes to an active ingredient like glycolic acid.
“Glycolic acid has gained popularity in the online beauty community mainly due to its efficacy as an exfoliant. It helps remove the uppermost layers of dead skin, revealing fresher, brighter skin underneath. Additionally, its versatility in treating multiple skin concerns like acne, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation has been acknowledged widely,” says dermatologist and founder of The Bombay Skin Clinic Dr. Batul Patel, adding that since it’s suitable for most skin types, it’s become a favourite amongst beauty enthusiasts.
Since there’s no escaping the wild and wonderful effects and testimonials around glycolic acid, we got the expert to answer some of the most pressing questions we had about the ingredient and its benefits in our skincare routines…
Glycolic Acid: Explained
What does glycolic acid do for your skin?
The question might be simple but it’s one that needed to be asked. How does it work? “Glycolic acid works as a chemical exfoliant and helps shed dead skin cells from the surface of the skin,” says Dr. Patel, “It stimulates the cell renewal process, resulting in a smoother and brighter complexion. Moreover, it improves the skin’s texture and diminishes the appearance of fine lines, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation. Glycolic acid is an excellent molecule which only seems to target the topmost layer, that is corneocytes, to exfoliate without compromising the skin barrier structure.”
What are the different benefits of adding glycolic acid to your skincare routine?
“Glycolic acid can benefit the skin in several ways,” says the dermat, “It can improve skin texture and colour, reduce signs of ageing like fine lines and wrinkles, minimise the appearance of acne scars, reduce pore size, and even help with certain types of acne. It also increases cell turnover, encouraging the generation of new, healthier skin cells.” A miracle worker indeed!
What percentage of glycolic acid should we look for in any product?
The different percentages of glycolic acid in any product indicate its strength. As with any active ingredient, it’s better to introduce it slowly to your routine to test how it reacts with your skin. Dr. Patel adds, “If one is looking for a simple glow and light exfoliation, then 2 to 4% glycolic can help. If stubborn acne marks need to be improved, then at least 6 to 8% of glycolic acid is needed. For fine lines and wrinkles, a higher percentage of glycolic is required which is best suited in a peel form or once/twice a week application to avoid drying out or irritating the skin too much. So using the right percentage of glycolic acid for the right skin condition and body part will show the desired result.”
What should you know before using glycolic acid?
Dr. Patel warns that using glycolic acid might increase your skin’s sensitivity, especially to the sun. “Using sunscreen is a must when using glycolic acid products,” she says, adding, “Always remember to follow up with sunscreen if using glycolic acid in the morning, as it increases photosensitivity.”
Who should not use glycolic acid in their routines?
The dermatologist cautions that glycolic acid might be a versatile skincare ingredient but it’s not for everyone. “Individuals with very sensitive skin, rosacea, or eczema may want to avoid using glycolic acid as it can cause irritation and worsen these conditions,” says Dr. Patel, “Also, pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their doctor before using it, as the safety of topical use during these periods hasn’t been firmly established.”
What are the misconceptions about glycolic acid?
“Some common misconceptions about glycolic acid include the belief that it thins the skin, when in fact, regular use of glycolic acid can increase the skin’s thickness by stimulating new skin cell regeneration without destroying the skin barrier,” says the expert, “Many studies have proven that it acts only on the corneocytes which is the most superficial layer and does not compromise the skin barrier junction.”
Can you use it with other active skincare ingredients?
Aside from glycolic acid, other active ingredients have also gained popularity because of the Internet over the past few months. Naturally, having these different ingredients present in the products you use daily in your skincare routine should come after thorough consultation from your dermatologist. Dr. Patel agrees that glycolic acid can be used with other skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid, retinol, or Vitamin C. “Hyaluronic acid can be used to hydrate the skin, as glycolic acid might cause dryness in some individuals. Vitamin C can work synergistically with glycolic acid, as both enhance the skin’s brightness. However, combining glycolic acid with retinol should be done cautiously as both are potent ingredients that can potentially irritate the skin.”
What are some side effects of glycolic acid?
According to Dr. Patel, some potential side effects of glycolic acid include redness, peeling, dryness, and increased sun sensitivity. “It can also cause a mild stinging or burning sensation upon application. In rare cases, it may cause allergic reactions.” This is why she insists that it’s crucial to do a patch test before incorporating any new product into your skincare routine, especially those containing active ingredients like glycolic acid.