What is it? Glycolic acid, the most common of the alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) is an all-natural derivative of sugar cane. Citric acid from lemon, orange and grapefruit extracts are also considered glycolic acids and frequently used in face and body exfoliators.
Glycolic acid naturally exfoliates the skin by sloughing off the multiple layers. Applying glycolic acid to the skin causes bacteria to die, pores to open and acne to become vulnerable. At this point, extractions are easier, microdermabrasion is more effective and other products will penetrate better into the skin.
Glycolic acid also aids in bringing natural moisture to the surface of the skin where it's needed most.
You'll find it in: Glycolic acid comes in several different products both professional and consumer ready. There's some controversy surrounding what percentages of glycolic acid should be available to the public. While some companies limit their products to a concentration of no more than 10 percent, others sell home care peels with 50 percent glycolic acid.
Glycolic acid, unlike other AHAs, works well in an entire skin care regimen. From cleansers to moisturizers to once-a-week treatments, glycolic acid is great for keeping skin refreshed, rejuvenated and hydrated.
Our product picks: For stepping up your routine with a glycolic boost, try M.D. Forte Facial Cleanser II with 15 percent glycolic acid, a great product for people who have been using glycolic treatments at home or are actively receiving chemical peel treatments.
For maximum results, try M.D. Forte Facial Cream III. This moisturizer continues the intense hydration — containing the highest glycolic compound available - after using MD Forte facial cleansers and toners.
What to expect: Depending on what percentage of glycolic acid appears in your product - whether in a professional chemical peel or an at-home product - results will vary according to skin type. People with acne might start out with a glycolic peel for treatments but may opt for something more aggressive if acne persists.
Before beginning any glycolic treatment, always get a patch test. It's also very important you use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher, because products with AHAs make you more sensitive to the sun. With a glycolic acid product, your skin will be fresher, smoother and more hydrated. You might experience a "peeling" effect after a few days thus allowing a healthier, new layer of skin to come through.
After a glycolic peel, skin feels tingly and appears red. Always request a sunscreen application after your peel. Glycolic is still considered a superficial acid, meaning allergic reactions are uncommon but they do happen. Redness, swelling and extreme dryness may occur. In the U.S., an esthetician can perform a 30 percent glycolic peel without medical supervision.
Who should avoid it: Pregnant women, those with hyper-sensitive skin and teenagers should avoid using products that contain glycolic acid. Pregnant women should also discontinue chemical peel treatments. Sensitive skin types should always avoid anything that has a history of irritating the skin.
Learn everything you need to know about anti-aging skincare in our Anti-Aging Handbook.