Glycolic Acid: Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, and Dosing

thumbnail for this post

Glycolic Acid: Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, and Dosing

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) commonly used in skincare products and chemical peels to improve skin texture and appearance. It is derived from sugarcane and is a colorless, odorless liquid that acts as an exfoliating agent.

Uses of Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid has various uses in skincare, including:

  • Exfoliation: Glycolic acid loosens the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing them to be shed and revealing smoother, brighter skin.
  • Acne treatment: It can help reduce acne breakouts by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation.
  • Fine line and wrinkle reduction: It stimulates collagen production, which helps plump up the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Hyperpigmentation: Glycolic acid can lighten dark spots caused by sun damage or acne scarring.
  • Ingrown hair prevention: It can help prevent ingrown hairs by exfoliating the skin and reducing hair buildup.

Benefits of Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid offers several benefits for skin health:

  • Improved skin texture: Regular use of glycolic acid can lead to smoother, more refined skin texture.
  • Enhanced radiance: Exfoliating with glycolic acid removes dull skin cells, revealing a brighter and more radiant complexion.
  • Reduced acne and breakouts: Its exfoliating and antimicrobial properties help unclog pores and reduce breakouts.
  • Anti-aging effects: Glycolic acid stimulates collagen production, helping to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and overall skin aging.

Side Effects of Glycolic Acid

Like any skincare ingredient, glycolic acid can cause side effects in some individuals:

  • Skin irritation: Excessive or inappropriate use can lead to redness, dryness, and burning sensations.
  • Sun sensitivity: Glycolic acid can make the skin more sensitive to the sun, increasing the risk of sunburn.
  • Allergic reactions: Though rare, some people may experience allergic reactions to glycolic acid.

Precautions When Using Glycolic Acid

To minimize the risk of side effects, consider the following precautions:

  • Start gradually: Begin with a low concentration of glycolic acid and gradually increase the strength as tolerated.
  • Test on a small area: Patch test the product on a small area of skin before using it on the entire face.
  • Use sunscreen: Always apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher before using glycolic acid, as it can increase sun sensitivity.
  • Avoid over-exfoliation: Limit glycolic acid use to 1-2 times per week to prevent skin irritation.
  • Moisturize: Use a moisturizer to hydrate the skin after glycolic acid application.
  • Consult a dermatologist: If you have sensitive skin or any skin concerns, consult a dermatologist before using glycolic acid products.

Dosing and Concentrations

Glycolic acid is typically used in concentrations ranging from 5% to 20% in skincare products. The appropriate concentration depends on the individual’s skin type and sensitivity.

  • Sensitive skin: Start with a 5-10% concentration and gradually increase as tolerated.
  • Normal skin: Use a 10-15% concentration for optimal exfoliation and anti-aging benefits.
  • Oily or acne-prone skin: A 15-20% concentration can be effective in reducing breakouts and excess oil production.

How to Use Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid can be found in various forms, including serums, creams, masks, and chemical peels. Here’s a general guide on how to use glycolic acid:

  • Cleanse: Wash your face with a gentle cleanser to remove dirt and oil.
  • Apply glycolic acid: Apply a small amount of the glycolic acid product to the clean skin, avoiding the eyes and lips.
  • Leave on: Leave the glycolic acid on for the recommended time, typically 5-15 minutes.
  • Rinse: Rinse off the glycolic acid with lukewarm water.
  • Moisturize: Apply a moisturizer to hydrate and protect the skin.
  • Frequency: Start by using glycolic acid once or twice a week and gradually increase as tolerated.

Other Considerations

  • Seasonal adjustments: Glycolic acid may need to be used less frequently during the summer or on very dry skin.
  • Avoid combining with other exfoliants: Using multiple exfoliating products simultaneously can over-exfoliate the skin.
  • Discontinue use if irritation occurs: If you experience any redness, irritation, or discomfort, discontinue using the glycolic acid product and consult a dermatologist.


Glycolic acid is a versatile skincare ingredient with exfoliating, anti-aging, and acne-fighting properties. When used correctly, it can improve skin texture, reduce breakouts, and enhance radiance. However, it is important to use glycolic acid gradually, with proper precautions, to minimize the risk of side effects. Consult a dermatologist for personalized guidance and to determine the appropriate glycolic acid concentration and usage frequency for your skin type and concerns.

A thumbnail image

Sweet Vernal Grass: Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, and Dosing

Sweet Vernal Grass: A Natural Supplement with Potential Health Benefits Sweet …

A thumbnail image

Broccoli: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage, and Precautions

Broccoliin: A Comprehensive Guide to Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, and Dosing …

A thumbnail image

Wood Sorrel: Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, and Dosing

Wood Sorrel: A Natural Supplement with Potential Health Benefits Introduction …