Fun fact: googling "glycolic acid" yields nine million search results. The active skincare ingredient has become a buzzword and is found in many skincare products—from toners and serums, to face masks. If you've ever wondered what it actually does to the complexion, here are a couple of its skin-clarifying benefits:
It exfoliates the topmost layer of the skin.
Glycolic acid is a form of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), otherwise known as fruit acids, that loosens the bond or "glue" that holds dead skin cells together. As you grow older, your skin naturally renews itself a lot slower, so it's more prone to accumulating dead skin cells, aka what causes the skin to appear dull.
"Of the AHAs, glycolic is the simplest in structure and the smallest; it has the lowest molecular weight," Kenneth Howe, M.D., a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City, tells Glamour. Its small molecular structure is what makes it effective in deeply penetrating the skin.
It brightens and evens out the complexion.
Aside from sloughing off dead skin cells, glycolic acid promotes cell turnover, reducing the appearance of skin discoloration and acne scars over time.
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It aids in keeping blackheads from forming.
It prevents dirt, oil, and residue from clogging the pores.
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It's great for acne-prone skin.
It may not treat acne as good as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or other famous acne-fighting ingredients, but glycolic acid is beneficial for acne-prone complexions as it helps loosen the built-up sebum in the pores that could otherwise result in breakouts.
This exfoliating ingredient also preps skin to absorb other richer products in your skincare routine.
As it gets rid of dead skin cells, your potent serums and rich night creams can be absorbed by your skin more effectively. But before you throw glycolic into your daily mix, be mindful of what you apply it with. Glycolic acid can counteract with other active ingredients like retinol. This form of vitamin A promotes cell skin turnover, and glycolic acid sloughs off dead skin cells so it's a recipe for redness and skin irritation.