Glycolic acid (also known as hydroxy acetic or AHA) is probably the best known of the family of hydroxy acids, or fruit acids. It is considered a natural product, since it is a derivative of sugar cane, and its properties make it an excellent exfoliator and moisturizer.

Glycolic acid is used in beauty treatments in concentrations ranging from the lowest (3%) to much higher concentrations used by dermatologists for their treatments (between 5% -25%). In higher concentrations, we run the risk of suffering some type of damage to the skin. So it should always be applied under the supervision of a professional.

Glycolic acid properties

Exfoliating Due to its properties (it has high acidity but dissolves easily), glycolic acid is used as an exfoliant. It is usually included as an active ingredient in exfoliating creams or gels, since glycolic acid penetrates the upper layers of the skin, which show signs of deterioration (either due to age, sun exposure, acne, or other problems), and destroys the ‘glue’ that adheres dead skin to the surface, helping to chemically loosen this layer. The result is that the surface of the skin looks much smoother and the overall appearance is more youthful.

Reinforcement of moisturizers. Another property of glycolic acid is that it helps moisturizers penetrate the layers of freshly exfoliated skin.

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Glycolic acid benefits

  • Protects the collagen and elastin of the skin: Stimulates the formation of this collagen and elastin, increasing the regenerative capacity.
  • Produces a chemical and non-abrasive peeling of the skin: It is used to progressively exfoliate the skin, eliminating the dead cells that accumulate on the surface, making a sweeping effect, causing the skin to look more uniform.
  • Eliminates stains: Whether those that are the product of sun exposure, skin aging, pregnancy, or the consumption of contraceptives. Applied in the correct doses and combined with a whitening substance, such as hydroquinone. It helps to eliminate the upper layers of the skin, removing dead cells and erasing spots.
  • Refines the horny layer of the skin: Leaves it smooth and soft, while reinforcing its other layers. Pores appear tighter.
  • Increases skin hydration: This is another of the benefits of glycolic acid. Which in this way prevents premature aging and maintains the natural moisture and freshness of the skin for longer.
  • Corrects the appearance of impurities: Controls the production of oil in the skin with acne, reducing it and eliminating excess shine.
  • Reduces wrinkles: Reduces and fills in expression lines, such as crow’s feet, lines on the forehead or at the corner of the lips, etc. The result is visibly younger skin.
  • Serves to erase scars and reduce stretch marks.
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Contraindications and side effects

As with any other product, it is necessary to apply it in moderation, and as we have pointed out before it should be used under the supervision of a specialist. Glycolic acid can have some side effects, the more likely the higher its concentration:

  • Temporary redness or irritation of the skin. It does not usually last more than twenty-four hours.
  • Slight burning at the time of application.
  • Obscuration. Sometimes exfoliated skin may darken. This side effect is more common on dark skin.

Peels are not recommended in patients with herpes, in those who are already taking oral retinoids, or in photosensitive skin. In any case, it is advisable to perform a sensitivity test before applying the treatment to avoid complications and to start treatment with lower concentrations of glycolic acid. It is best to treat skin blemishes in autumn or winter, where sunlight is less harmful. Also, the skin treated with glycolic acid becomes more sensitive. So it is essential to choose sunscreen with a high level of UVA and UVB protection. Use sunscreen on your face, neck, and hands.

Another recommendation to keep in mind is to hydrate the skin well after treating it with glycolic acid and allow the skin to rest between applications (do not apply for more than three months).

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