Does Glycolic Acid Lighten the Skin?

a woman applying glycolic acid serum on her face

Glycolic Acid for Signs of Aging

An alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), glycolic acid can be used to treat acne, dryness, hyperpigmentation, and ageing effects. This means that glycolic acid attracts moisture to newly exfoliated skin, which, when applied appropriately, not only moisturises dry skin but also prevents the formation of new fine lines and wrinkles. 

Moreover, glycolic acid makes treatments or other processes much more effective as it has the property of improving the other skincare products' penetration. We adore glycolic acid because of her numerous superpowers, but her abilities are strong and can take some getting used to. Light stinging, redness and burning are common until your skin adjusts to glycolic acid; however, you should always use sunscreen when using this component because it makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays. If you have sensitive skin, lactic acid, glycolic acid's sister, is a fantastic alternative. In summary, glycolic acid is a strong compound that can aid in the progression of one’s skincare routine.

How does Glycolic Acid work?

Of all the AHAs, glycolic acid contains the smallest molecules. 

1 This permits glycolic acid to penetrate the skin more deeply and exfoliate it more effectively than other AHAs. 

Glycolic acid functions by increasing skin cell turnover. To put it another way, it breaks down the connections that hold skin cells together. In effect, your skin is able to shed dead skin cells faster than it normally would. Glycolic acid also encourages your skin for collagen production.

2 Collagen is a protein that gives skin its firmness, plumpness, and elasticity. Connective tissues and bones are also made stronger by collagen.

As one ages or with time, collagen production reduces in the skin. When one has too much sun exposure, the collagen in the body is also reduced. If one uses glycolic acid on a regular basis, it can stop the breakdown of collagen. 

What Does It Do to Your Skin? 

There are many reasons which make glycolic acid a famous treatment:

  • Anti-ageing: It reduces fine wrinkles, slows signs of ageing and improves the tone and texture of the skin. 
  • It fades dark spots produced by UV damage while also protecting collagen from the sun. 
  • When applied on a daily basis, it illuminates the skin. 
  • Exfoliation helps the skin shed dead skin cells, which prevents ingrown hairs and makes large visible pores appear smaller. 
  • It prevents comedones, blackheads, and irritated outbreaks by cleaning up pores. 
  • Despite the fact that many sources say glycolic acid can remove scars, it simply cannot. 
  • Acne or other wounds can leave dark spots that glycolic acid can brighten. It may minimise the appearance of elevated scars and pitted scars, but it will not eliminate them. 
  • A professional strength glycolic acid peel or a different scar therapy entirely is a preferable option for scars. 

Where to Look for It?

You have a number of options when it comes to glycolic acid. Many over-the-counter (OTC) products contain this skincare favourite. Try your neighbourhood drugstore, grocery, or spa. Glycolic acid can be found in a variety of cleansers, masks, toners, and moisturisers. Glycolic acid is available over the counter in concentrations of up to 10%. 

Chemical peels use glycolic acid for more powerful treatments. An esthetician at a salon or skin spa can perform light duty glycolic acid peels up to 30% strength. At the dermatology practice, you can have peels that are up to 70% stronger. 

Even though glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane, store-bought sugar is not the same. Sugar can be used to exfoliate your face and leave it feeling smoother. However, it will not produce the same outcomes as glycolic acid treatment. 

Possible side effects

Glycolic acid (along with all alpha-hydroxy acids) is a safe and effective chemical to utilise in your regular skincare routine. 

Because of its acidity, it still has the potential to induce some negative effects. Among them are: 

  1. skin irritation or redness 
  2. burning 
  3. peeling 
  4. dryness 
  5. peeling 
  6. itching 
  7. flaking
  8. Scarring

If you experience redness or flakiness after using glycolic acid, or if your skin begins to peel, consider switching to a lower strength product. Use a different chemical exfoliator, such as lactic acid, as an alternative. 

Always start with a low percentage and gradually raise the strength as your skin adjusts to the routine. Alpha hydroxy acids are softer than other beta hydroxy acid exfoliants like salicylic acid, yet they can still be harsh on some skin types. It'll be crucial to let your skin acclimate and discover the right frequency. Start with once a week and work your way up from there, unless your skincare professional advises differently. 

Take Away

It increases cell turnover as it permeates into the skin. As a result, glycolic acid is an excellent exfoliator that leaves the skin looking healthier and more radiant. 

Many OTC and professional skincare products, particularly anti-ageing products, include glycolic acid. It also promotes collagen formation, protects the skin from sun damage, and reduces pore blockage. Your dermatologist can assist you in selecting a glycolic acid product if you require it.