Glycolic Acid 101

by Sarah Ban

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! In skin care, there’s always a new trending ingredient that gets replaced by the next, but glycolic acid has stuck around since its discovery because it works—and it works really well. If you want fewer lines, wrinkles, breakouts and dark spots as well as a smoother, softer, radiantly glowing complexion, glycolic acid is exactly what you’ve been looking for. Intrigued? Here’s the nitty-gritty:

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), a group of safe, naturally occurring fruit acids found in a large variety of skincare products. AHAs also include lactic (derived from milk or plant sugars) and citric acids (from citrus and other plant sugars). Glycolic acid is derived from cane sugar, and it’s special because it possesses the smallest molecular size of all acids—which means it can penetrate skin the most efficiently. This also allows it to give the best results: more exfoliation, more glow and a more texturally refined appearance. ‘Nough said!

What Great Things Can Glycolic Acid Do for Skin?

Though the process is more involved, simply put, glycolic acid dissolves dead skin cells that sit on your skin’s surface. It works by gently “eating away” at “glue” between skin cells. Glycolic acid is also helpful in reducing the appearance of scarring, hyperpigmentation (including acne scars and age spots), fine lines and large pores thanks to its efficiency in clearing away dead skin cells and encouraging healthy cell turnover. Furthermore, glycolic acid is credited with helping to support collagen, a protein we lose with age that keeps skin looking taut and firm, essentially slowing down the appearance deep wrinkles and sagging. All of that is quite impressive for one acid, so it’s no surprise that glycolic acid is the clear AHA star.  

How It Works

Glycolic acid reacts with the uppermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, effectively unbinding the lipids that hold skin cells together. This causes dead skin cells to become exfoliated and removed, making way for the skin to produce new cells. While it's mainly known for its exfoliating powers, glycolic acid also helps retain moisture in the skin, and by "remodeling the dermal and epidermal extracellular matrix.  Exfoliating, moisturizing and collagen-building—there’s nothing this little acid can’t do!

How To Use It

To reap the full benefits of glycolic acid, start by using an at-home peel once or twice a week. LATHER’s 10-Minute Brightening Mask with Glycolic Acid sloughs away dead skin cells to illuminate skin and refine its texture, allowing it to develop a uniform tone and softer feel while also keeping fine lines at bay

Apply a thin layer all over your face, avoiding the under eye area, and leave on for 5-10 minutes. You may notice slight redness and a tingling sensation. Rinse off with tepid water. For best results, use in the evenings and avoid sun exposure for 24 hours afterward. Repeated use will keep skin smooth, glowing, blemish-free and even-toned.

Warnings

Always listen to your skin. Glycolic acid may be harsh on the irritated or already-sensitized skin. To be extra safe, do a patch test on the inside of your arm to note if skin becomes overly red or inflamed. Glycolic acid also makes skin more sensitive to the sun, so make sure you’re extra diligent about using sunscreen (which you should be doing anyway!), like LATHER’s Daily Defense Facial Sunscreen.