Glycolic Acid 101: How Does Glycolic Acid Work?

Glycolic acid has been around for a long time in the skincare industry. It is one of the most popular and effective options available to address skincare needs. It is readily available as an over the counter product in facial cleansers, moisturizers, toners, exfoliants, masks, and serums. The ideal safe use concentration for at-home use is up to 30%. If you are looking for a more potent concentration, it can be found in spas and dermatologist offices. Before you start thinking about putting it on your face, let’s see if it’s right for you.

“What does glycolic acid do? What are the benefits of glycolic acid? How to use glycolic for sensitive skin? What is the best glycolic toner with glycolic acid? What type of serum with glycolic acid should I use?” Read along, we have all the answers for you!

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Is Glycolic Acid an AHA? Yes indeed! Glycolic acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), a group of naturally occurring “fruit acid” found in food. Where does Glycolic acid come from? It is derived from sugarcane and has the smallest size molecule of all the AHA’s allowing it to penetrate the skin.

How Does Glycolic Acid Work?

Glycolic acid works by dissolving the bond that holds dull and dead skin cells to the top layer, allowing the skin to turn over more rapidly. It is a form of chemical exfoliant, a type of exfoliant making use of its chemical properties instead of physical scrub-like granules. By removing this outer layer of debris and dead skin cells, a newer smoother healthier layer of skin is regenerated.

Glycolic Acid Benefits


As you age, the cellular turnover process slows down. Glycolic acid helps to shed dull, dead skin cells to reveal healthier new skin, bypassing our natural skin recovery cycle. It works to smooth fine wrinkles and improve the skin’s tone and texture by stimulating collagen growth. Glycolic acid also plumps the skin and helps boost hydration levels. Best glycolic anti-aging products:


Glycolic acid contains antibacterial properties. It fights acne by exfoliating the dead skin cells and removing the excess oil that normally clogs pores causing breakouts. When you hear acne, you may think salicylic is the way to go, but not always, in some cases there are benefits in using glycolic acid vs salicylic acid. Glycolic and salicylic acid are both excellent exfoliators and great at fighting breakout, but the main thing to remember is that salicylic is better at treating oily skin and acne-prone skin, while glycolic acid is better at treating mature skin while removing wrinkles and fine lines at the same time! Best glycolic face wash recommendation:



Because glycolic acid is an effective exfoliator, it helps fade minor discoloration providing a brighter skin and more even complexion, some glycolic products offer spot targeting as well. Due to its tiny molecules, spots from post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation are gone quicker. For best glycolic acid products for hyperpigmentation, we recommend:


Removing dead skin cells allows for subsequent treatment products to better absorb into the skin, allowing them to work more effectively. However, because it is a chemical exfoliator, you would want to avoid using a peel or a physical exfoliator right away. Can I use glycolic acid with vitamin C together? Certainly! Read the complete guide of using Glycolic Acid AHA BHA and Vitamin C safely here:

Is Glycolic Acid Safe?


In short, YES it is relatively safe to use glycolic acid during pregnancy. You can still get all the wonders from glycolic acid by choosing your acid carefully and avoiding mixing acids.

Because your skin may become more sensitive at this time, choose glycolic acid that contains less than 10% glycolic acid. Even though your skin may be more prone to breakout than usually, do not use several acids together. For example, do not use AHA and BHA at the same time, but rather use them individually in rotating days or one in the morning and one at night. Remember, your safety is always number one!


While glycolic acid works best for oily, combination, and normal skin types, people with all skin types can use this magical substance (with exception of very sensitive skin or skin with rosacea). In general, at-home glycolic use is safe. For those with sensitive skin or dry skin, a high percentage of glycolic acid is definitely not recommended as it may cause irritation, redness or itching. Therefore choose your glycolic acid products carefully by looking at its glycolic acid content and modifying your usage frequency. You may use products with 10% glycolic acid daily, and products with 30% once or twice a week.


As an alternative, some people may opt for lactic acid. Glycolic acid vs lactic acid: glycolic acid molecules are smaller compared to lactic acid, penetrating deeper into the skin, therefore lactic acid is gentler on the skin and may work better for dry and sensitive skin. Best lactic acid products for dry and sensitive skin recommendation:

Because it is a peel, It is also important to maintain moisture and keep skin protected from the sun when using glycolic acid because it can increase skin sensitivity to UV rays. You can use sunscreen, or if you want to avoid the hassle like me, opt for a moisturizer that contains SPF in them.

Bonus: glycolic face wash, peel, serum recommendation!

The best glycolic acid peel, professional easy-to-use skincare at home. Repechage Biolight Glyco-Sea Glycolic Peel is your express ticket to smoother, brighter and more luminous skin. This quick 15 minute treatment will help reduce the appearance of uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation due to hormonal changes, post-acne scarring, certain prescription medications, and sun exposure.

We recommend this as the best glycolic acid face wash because it is soap-free, performing very gently on the skin. Jan Marini Bioglycolic Face Cleanser thoroughly cleanse without irritating the skin. This formula is a soap free cleanser and toner, non irritating, and rinses completely without the need for a post-cleansing toner or astringent.

The perfect glycolic acid serum with a low percentage of glycolic acid, suitable for (almost) all skin types. It keeps your skin looking young and minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles without clogging pores. Arguably one of the best glycolic acid serums out there.

Join Skin-Beauty Coupon List
Enter your email address to get a coupon code for 25% off your first order at
We respect your privacy