What Is Glycolic Acid And How Does It Help To Improve Health

glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is revered for its ability to improve skin health. It is a common component of most cosmetics. It is also used for the treatment of acne breakouts, but the benefits of glycolic acid are not limited to clearing acne.

Using this type of product can improve your complexion and tone your skin.

Here is a brief discussion about what glycolic acid is and how it could help to improve your skin health. 

What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is a form of AHA, or alpha-hydroxy acid, a natural acid present in sugar cane and sweet fruit. It can be combined with other natural acids, such as a milk-derived lactic acid.

Sometimes it is combined with additional acids like tartaric acid, present naturally in grapes, as well as citric acid, from fruit. [1]

Its molecules have a simple structure and are very small in comparison to other AHAs. This lower molecular weight allows it to penetrate into the deeper tissues of your skin and act directly on those tissues.

It is considered highly effective for stimulating the repair and healing of skin tissues damaged by the sun, free radicals, chemicals in foods and cosmetics, and so on. [2]

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Here are some of the ways glycolic acid works to protect the skin and heal damaged tissues. 

How does glycolic acid work?

If is an exfoliant. It promotes shedding of the tightly packed layers of dead skin cells on the skin surface (the stratum corneum) as well as working deep within the lower layers of the skin.

This can allow new cells to replace the dead cells thus revealing the brighter and younger-looking layers of the skin present underneath the stratum corneum. [3] [4]

Normally, the stratum corneum is intact and the dead skin cells are tightly bonded together. If helps to loosen these bonds. Once the glue keeping the dead cells together is dissolved by glycolic acid, the layers of dead cells can slough off more easily. [5] 

Also, since this acid has a lower molecular weight and a smaller size, it can easily enter deeper parts of the skin, where it can really get to work.  

This acid stimulates the activity of fibroblasts in the skin. These fibroblasts can produce an increased amount of collagen which plays a key role in supporting a healthy skin matrix.

Collagen strengthens the skin structure maintaining elasticity and firmness of the skin, delaying the signs of aging. By stimulating collagen production, glycolic acid reduces wrinkles and fine lines, and other signs of aging which helps you look younger!

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The exfoliant action on the superficial layer of the skin coupled with increased collagen production, restores optimum skin health.  Your skin can feel smoother and look more radiant.

What are the benefits of glycolic acid?

  • Glycolic Acid is commonly used in facial washes and cleansers. It can rejuvenate the face by cleansing the skin and eliminating impurities and toxins accumulated on its surface and deeper layers. [6]
  • It can help to reduce acne breakouts by removing dirt, germs, and other impurities on the skin. It works by regulating oil production by the sebaceous glands present in the skin and thus, controls the tendency to develop breakouts. It can also lighten the appearance of acne scars and reduce the chances of developing larger pustules. [7]
  • The use of this acid could be beneficial for patients who suffer from skin conditions such as psoriasis, and seborrheic keratosis. The exfoliating action of glycolic acid would help to slough off the superficial layer of the skin formed by dead cells due to the excessive flaking. This reveals the healthy layers of the skin present beneath and improves the person’s appearance. [8]
  • It may help to lighten hyperpigmented patches and spots on the skin caused due to melasma or other diseases. [9]
  • It can help to stimulate the secretion of collagen in the skin and improve its firmness and elasticity. This action of glycolic acid could be beneficial for delaying the signs of aging including fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. [10]
  • It is derived from natural sources such as sugar cane, sugar beets, and pineapple. The natural medicinal properties of glycolic acid are not just effective for improving skin health but are also safe. It is safe to use even by people with sensitive skin. 

Side effects of glycolic acid

While glycolic acid is generally safe to use, it may sometimes cause a few side effects. Some patients tend to develop redness and irritation of the skin when they start using a product containing this acid.

However, these side effects usually disappear once the skin gets used to the effects of glycolic acid. 

It may increase the sensitivity of the skin to sun rays. Patients should apply effective sunscreen while using any glycolic acid product.


Glycolic acid offers a wide range of benefits that improve your skin’s complexion and tone. One of the major advantages of this acid lies in its ability to reduce acne breakouts.

It can also help to relieve other common skin problems like hyperpigmentation, scaling, dullness, wrinkles, and fine lines. 

You can include natural products containing glycolic acid in your skincare routine to safely and effectively enhance the appearance of your skin.

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    1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemistry/glycolic-acid/
    2. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-18073/glycolic-acid-topical/details
    3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10906645/
  1. plasticsurgery.org/cosmetic-procedures/chemical-peel/cost
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Glycolic-acid
  3. dermatology.ca/public-patients/skin/photoaging/
  4. https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-3-319-16805-0_2
  5. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/drugreview-18073-glycolic-acid-topical.aspx?drugid=18073&drugname=glycolic-acid-topical
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8634805/

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