Active Ingredients: Glycolic Acid

Rachel Gibbons Beauty Expert
Active Ingredients: Glycolic Acid

What is Glycolic Acid and what does it do?

Glycolic acid is the way to go for smoother and brighter skin. I think we can all agree that everyone is familiar with glycolic acid. Although it isn’t considered a new or trendy ingredient, it has only recently seen its fame during the last couple of years but it has been considered a skincare staple for over three decades.

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy-acid (AHA) derived from sugarcane. It works as a chemical exfoliant that gets rid of dead skin cells that remain on the surface and in the skin, which can lead to acne breakouts and make your skin look dull. In the list of AHAs, glycolic acid is considered the most potent and effective as it has the smallest molecular weight, meaning that it can easily penetrate the skin compared to other AHAs. We all know the primary benefit of using glycolic acid; exfoliation, but we want to tell you that it’s not limited to just removing dead skin cells and impurities in the skin, but much more.

Glycolic acid can be used for almost everyone, we’ll discuss the almost in a bit. Whether or not you have mature skin, oily skin, combination skin, acne prone skin or dry skin, you can guarantee that you will reap the benefits of glycolic acid.



Exfoliates the skin

  • Working as a chemical exfoliate, glycolic acid loosens the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing them to be easily removed; this term is called desquamation. When this happens, it reveals smoother and softer looking skin.


  • Glycolic acid also boosts cell turnover, which help to reveal younger and fresher looking cells. This improves the overall appearance and reveals a more youthful look.

Reduces discoloration

  • In comparison to fresh skin cells, dead skin cells definitely appear more dull and dehydrated, hence, by removing them your skin will instantly be brightened and more even. Discolouration can include previous sun damage, dark and age spots, scarring and hyperpigmentation. 

Stimulates collagen production

  • Like we mentioned before, glycolic acid is not limited to exfoliating your skin. It is also found that glycolic acid works to promote collagen production in the deeper layers of the skin, making it a good anti-ageing ingredient. However, compared to its almost instantaneous exfoliating effect, the anti-ageing benefits occur only after continuous use. It will take some time to notice an improvement in fine lines and wrinkles.


  • By stimulating the shedding of dead skin on the skin’s surface, it actually prevents the formation of clogged pores and acne. Acne breakouts happen when there’s a buildup of impurities, dead skin, bacteria and other substances that causes the skin to be inflamed.

Increases skin’s hydration

  • Glycolic acid helps the skin naturally produce mucopolysaccharides which help the skin to stay hydrated by increasing the skin’s natural content of hyaluronic acid, which in turns enhances the skin’s resilience and barrier. This allows the skin to function more efficiently and better protect the skin.

Enhances product absorption

  • As a result of its exfoliation properties, glycolic acid helps to prepare the skin for other products, allowing them to be more effective and you achieving the best results! With all the dead skin and impurities out of the way, the skin can better absorb the products.


What to note?

  • At the end of the day, glycolic acid is still an acid, meaning that there’s always gonna potential for irritation, allergic reactions and redness. This is particularly true if you have sensitive skin, dehydrated skin or chronic skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Glycolic acid is also more prone to cause reactions due to its smaller molecular weight. If you have sensitive skin but want to reap the benefits of chemical exfoliants, we recommend looking at mandelic acid or lactic acid or starting off with a lower concentration and slowly building up your tolerance.
  • Something crucial to remember when using chemical exfoliants is that you NEED to wear sunscreen after, of at least SPF30, as acids make your skin more sensitive to the sun. If not, your skin condition can worsen from sun damage
  • Please conduct a patch test prior as glycolic acid is more susceptible to causing skin sensitivity.


Products we recommend 

The INKEY List Glycolic Acid Toner

the inkey list glycolic acid toner

This 10% Glycolic Acid exfoliating toner helps to reduce the appearance of pores and fine lines, as well as support smoother and brighter skin. Further enriched with 5% Witch Hazel to help reduce excess oil and soothes the skin. Recommended for those with oily or congested skin.


The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

the ordinary glycolic acid 7% toning solution

This toning solution is your gateway to radiant and brighter looking skin. This 7% toning solution offers mild exfoliation for improved skin radiance and visible clarity. The formula also improves the appearance of skin texture with continued use. Also enhanced with Tasmanian pepperberry derivative to reduce irritation that comes with using glycolic acid.


COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid

cosrx aha 7 whitehead power liquid

COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid is a treatment liquid essence that keeps skin clear and smooth by gently melt dead skin cells on rougher skin with apple water and 7% glycolic acid. This essence is targeted to dissolve at whiteheads, blackheads and other impurities in skin, refineng uneven complexions.


The INKEY List Apple Cider Vinegar Acid Peel

the inkey list apple cider vinegar acid peel

This next-generation peel is built for multi-level exfoliation and formulated to be hardworking but non-irritating. Antioxidant rich apple cider vinger helps brighten and reduce redness, while minimising the appearance of pores, post-blemish marks and reducing breakouts. Glycolic and fruit acids combine to smooth and refine skin texture for overall smoother, brighter skin.


Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

paulas choice skin perfecting 8 aha gel exfoliant

A unique AHA gel exfoliant with glycolic acid that removes built-up layers of dead skin revealing smoother, firmer-looking skin. This unique formula revitalizes skin’s surface, creates noticeable radiance, smooths the appearance of wrinkles, and makes your skin look and feel remarkably soft.


KraveBeauty Kala-Lalu-yAHA

kravebeauty kala lalu yaha

Kale-Lalu-yAHA is powered by AHAs that buff away excess dead skin cells and unclog pores so skin can breathe easier. As you sweep Kale-Lalu-yAHA across your skin, sugar cane-derived Glycolic Acid unglues dead skin cells and lifts them away. Cue Hyaluronic Acid to add some soothing hydration and Kale to boost antioxidants. A Skin Refresh Button!


Pixi Glow Tonic

pixi glow tonic

This Glow Tonic is formulated with 5% Glycolic Acid that gently wipes away impurities and excess oil from your pores. The Aloe Vera, Ginseng and Botanical extracts work together to nourish, treat and protect your skin. It works as a instant glow enhancer.

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