We got an email from a reader named Bev who wrote in the following question.
What is glycolic acid and where can I get it? Is this something I can make up at home?
We're glad Bev wrote in because glycolic acid is a great product to use in your skin care regimen and its origin is fun to learn about. Read on to learn more about glycolic acid's skin benefits.
What is Glycolic Acid and Where Does it Come From
Glycolic acid is a natural ingredient derived from sugar cane, though it is now often made synthetically. It falls into the set of ingredients called AHA's, or alpha hydroxy acids. There are five ingredients that fall into the AHA category, which Dr. Brannon, Guide to Dermatology explains as: glycolic (sugar cane), lactic (milk), citric (oranges and lemons), malic (apples and pears) and tartaric acids (grapes).
Glycolic acid is probably the most common alpha hydroxy acid and has the reputation of being one of the safest forms of alpha hydroxy acid.
What Does Glycolic Acid Do for my Skin?
Glycolic Acid is an exfoliator. It safely removes the outer layer of dead skin cells on the surface your skin, bring fresh new skin to the surface. This is beneficial for those who are looking for ingredients that help with anti-aging. Glycolic acid can also help lighten discoloration of the skin, such as sun spots or age spots and help those with acne-prone and blackhead-prone skin.
Glycolic Acid Daily Products
Glycolic Acid comes in many different products: facial cleansers, serums, moisturizers, eye creams and face peels.
When you look at a product's ingredient list, glycolic acid will be listed in the active ingredients area, above the products full list of ingredients. It will also many times have a percentage. Some believe that stay-on products such as serums and creams with less than 10% strength don't really give your skin the benefits glycolic acid is known for, so make sure you look at the percentage.
Combining glycolic acid products is OK to do, as well, such as a 3% facial cleanser combined with a 10% serum. Here are some well-reviewed products with 10% glycolic acid.
- Peter Thomas Roth: Glycolic Acid Collection
- Reviva Labs 10% Glycolic Acid Renaissance Cream
- Glyderm Lotion
Glycolic Acid Facial Peels
Glycolic acid peels in the office are quick and effective. Dermatologists use 50% or higher concentration of glycolic acid and it only needs to stay on your skin for minutes. They are often times called "lunch peels" because they are easily done during your lunch break. Check out this quick video that shows Dr. Neal Schultz doing an in-office glycolic peel in less than 5 minutes, start to finish.
Of course, the benefit of doing an in-office peel is the higher concentration, which gives better results, but you pay for those results. There are also at-home glycolic acid peels you can buy and do yourself. We do recommend in-office procedures, at least the first time, so you can see how your skin reacts. That said, here are some glycolic acid peels with higher percentages.
- Brazilian Peel - 30%
- IQ Naturals: Complete Glycolic Acid 30% Chemical Facial Peel Kit
- Skin Authority: Resurfacing Accelerator - 15%
Can I Make My Own Glycolic Acid at Home?
Doing a simple online search of glycolic acid face peel recipes brings up some options, but we recommend sticking with a product line or office procedure with guaranteed results. We're all for DIY skin care recipes, but with the chemical exfoliating, we feel better with tried and true product lines and in office procedures.
Glycolic Acid: Important to Note
It's important to note that you should always be diligent with sunscreen when using AHA's like glycolic acid as your skin is much more susceptible to sunburn.