The Power of Glycolic Acid in Your Skincare Routine

exfoliation for brighter clear skin

If you’re ready to see how flawless and radiant your skin can truly be, you need to incorporate glycolic acid into your skincare routine. Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliator known scientifically as an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). If you’re new to glycolic acid, never heard of AHAs, or aren’t sure if you should be using a chemical exfoliator in your skin routine, you’re about to learn everything you need to know about this life-changing skincare ingredient. 

To give you a sneak preview, glycolic acid buffs away dead skin cells, revealing a smoother, more radiant complexion. The best part? It can be used from head to toe! From softening rough patches to unclogging pores and preventing body acne, glycolic acid is extremely versatile and can even be used in foot peels for baby-soft toes (yes, please!).

What is Glycolic Acid?

Hearing the word ‘acid’ might freak you out, but glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane! As we mentioned, glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid, also known as AHA. AHAs are exfoliating acids that are found naturally in food sources.

The acidity in AHAs gently and safely breaks down the bonds of dead skin cells, making it a chemical exfoliator. Unlike physical exfoliators, AHAs don’t need beads to physically buff away dead skin cells. 

Glycolic acid is one of 7 different types of AHAs 

Where 5 of the most common AHAs can be found: 

  1. Glycolic acid: Sugarcane, kiwi, and grapes
  2. Lactic acid: Dairy products and fermented veggies like cabbage and pickles
  3. Malic acid: Apples, watermelons, cherries
  4. Citric acid: Citrus fruits, lemons, and limes
  5. Tartaric acid: Grapes and bananas

Glycolic acid is the most common AHA because it has benefits like you wouldn’t believe. If you’ve yet to start incorporating this into your skincare routine, we’re here to let you in! It’s time to start reaping the benefits of this natural exfoliator (no gatekeeping here!).

How does glycolic acid work to improve your skin?

According to Glamour, glycolic acid has the simplest molecular structure and the lowest molecular weight, which means it penetrates the skin more easily than all the other AHAs, making it more effective than its counterparts. 

First and foremost, glycolic acid works on the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) by breaking down the bonds between skin cells, promoting exfoliation, and removing dead skin in its wake. 

As we mentioned though, glycolic acid can penetrate beyond the epidermis into the middle layer of the skin, known as the dermis. Here, this magical ingredient can stimulate the production of collagen and elastin fibers, which can correct hyperpigmentation and promote youthful radiance. 

Glycolic acid benefits and when to use

Once you see the many benefits of incorporating glycolic acid into your skincare routine, you’ll understand why this ingredient has been on the rise in skincare since 1992 (yup, this one isn’t a TikTok trend, it’s here to stay).

Benefits of glycolic acid in your skincare routine: 

  • Exfoliates
  • Treats acne
  • Reduces texture
  • Minimizes fine lines
  • Promotes skin elasticity
  • Increases product absorption
  • Brightens skin
  • Lightens hyperpigmentation

Long story short, glycolic acid in your skin routine is the best way to get rid of acne scars, bumps, and dull skin.

Results of using glycolic acid on your skin:

When using glycolic acid consistently, you’ll notice: 

  • A smoother complexion
  • Clearer pores and fewer zits
  • Fewer dark spots from sun damage
  • Thicker, plumper skin
  • Youthful radiance 
  • More benefits from your skin routine

Who doesn’t want more radiant, even skin?! Next, we’ll explore ways to start using glycolic acid in your skin routine.

exfoliate your skin

Glycolic acid in your facial skincare routine

You can find glycolic acid in facial serums, cleansers, toners, exfoliators, and face peels. If you’re new to glycolic acid, incorporate it into your face care slowly to start. Only use an acid 1-2x a week like if you were skin cycling so you can build up your skin’s tolerance. 

Our favorite way to introduce acids to the skin is with a sheet mask so you don’t have to rearrange your entire skin routine or switch out your favorite products halfway through the bottle. 

When to use glycolic acid  

Glycolic acid products should be used at night. Be sure to apply SPF during the day too! According to Self, products with glycolic acid “can make you more sensitive to UV rays,” so it’s recommended to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+. 

It’s also important to introduce small doses of glycolic acid into your skincare at a time to build skin tolerance. 

Top-rated glycolic acid facial care products 

So many amazing facial care products feature glycolic acid as a main ingredient. Here are some of our favorites.

Top-rated Glycolic Cleanser: 

SkinCeuticals - Glycolic Renewal Cleanser - $42

Daily exfoliating cleansing gel targets dullness and rough skin texture for a clear and bright complexion.

Top-rated Glycolic Serum: 

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift - 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum - $32.99

Resurfacing 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Daily Serum visibly evens skin tone and reduces dark spots and fine lines.

Top-rated Glycolic Smoothing Treatment: 

Paula’s Choice - Daily Smoothing Treatment with 5% AHA - $37

A daily leave-on AHA exfoliant that reveals a truly smoother, more radiant, even-toned complexion by helping skin naturally exfoliate.

exfoliate mate sheet mask new arrival

Intro to acids that won’t break the bank  

If you’re looking to experience the benefits of AHAs and chemical exfoliators at an affordable price, we have the perfect product for you. The Exfoliate Mate Sheet Mask is a gentle exfoliating peel sheet mask featuring lactic acid, one of the AHAs we mentioned earlier. Similar to glycolic acid, lactic acid is known for its gentle exfoliating properties and works by dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells, promoting shedding and revealing fresher skin underneath. 

Try using an exfoliating sheet mask 1-2x a week to get started on your chemical exfoliation journey – you’ll start to see improved skin texture, fewer fine lines, and more radiant skin overall! 

Glycolic acid on the body 

Did you know glycolic acid can also prevent and treat body acne, razor burn, and thick, dry skin? As if AHAs weren’t cool enough, it’s also safe to use in body care! Glycolic acid is great for gently exfoliating the body and removing dead skin cells to promote glowy skin on your arms, tummy, legs, and even your feet! 

Glycolic acid can restore the skin below the neck by acting as a barrier that protects against bacteria. Since it’s acidic, it can also balance out our skin’s pH level, which can become imbalanced from over-the-counter body care products.

Here’s where you can find glycolic acid in body care: 

  • Body wash
  • Deodorant
  • Ingrown hair treatment
  • Body exfoliator
  • Body lotion
  • Foot treatment

What can’t this natural ingredient do?! Be prepared to reveal the best skin you’ve ever had when you start using glycolic acid body care products. 

Benefits of glycolic acid for the body

Just like face care, you should add glycolic acid into your body care routine slowly. Over time, you’ll start noticing the amazing benefits.

Benefits of glycolic acid in body care: 

  • Softens rough patches 
  • Brightens skin
  • Improves tone & texture
  • Unclogs pores
  • Prevents body acne
  • Heals razor burn
  • Hydrates dry skin

If you struggle with body bumps, body acne, rough texture, or hyperpigmentation, a glycolic body care product is a must! 

Top-rated glycolic acid body care products 

Top-rated Glycolic Body Wash:

Naturium - The Smoother Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Body Wash - $16

Formulated with an AHA blend including glycolic, lactic, pyruvic, and tartaric acids, this cleanser sloughs off dead skin cells, while red algae hydrates for softer, smoother more supple-looking skin.

Top-rated Glycolic Body Treatment: 

Paula's Choice - Weightless Body Treatment - $28

This body treatment is a leave-on exfoliant that gently removes built-up layers of dead skin, revealing smoother, softer skin from the neck down. It also significantly improves the appearance of hard, clogged, red bumps on arms and legs.

Top-rated Glycolic Body Lotion: 

Drunk Elephant - T.L.C. Glycolic Body Lotion - $28

A supercharged blend of 10% AHAs gently exfoliates to restore and resurface dull and uneven areas, while a mix of soothing plant oils, deeply moisturizing butters, and barrier-supporting electrolytes replenish dry, dehydrated skin below the neck.

poshpeel exfoliate foot peel

Glycolic acid in foot care

Glycolic acid in foot care products is highly underrated – have you tried a glycolic acid foot peel before? It will change your life, promise.

The POSHPEEL™ Pedi Cure Foot Peel has an AHA + BHA botanical blend that can effortlessly dissolve dead skin and gently exfoliate rough patches without irritating. This foot peel is the perfect solution for dry, cracked, calloused feet by delivering the deep hydration and gentle exfoliation your feet need to reveal the soft skin beneath. 

The foot peel that broke the internet 

You might’ve seen TikToks about foot peels that left behind shedding dead skin – yup, this is the foot peel that broke the internet! What you didn’t know? Glycolic acid plays a key role in breaking down dead, rough, calloused skin to reveal softer, supple skin with a more even texture. You’ll have the softest heels and toes ever!  

What to expect from a glycolic foot peel mask

If you’ve never used a foot peel before, be aware that your feet will shed dead skin for a while! Avoid these 11 MAJOR Mistakes You’re Making When Using a Foot Peel and you’ll be just fine. 

We recommend using this foot peel at least 3 weeks before your feet need to make an appearance – you might want to hide them away in your socks and shoes so they can shed in private. 

Say goodbye to calluses and rough, stubborn skin that just won’t budge from the bottom of your feet. Use this foot peel every 3-4 months for best results. 

FAQs about glycolic acid in skincare

Here are some common questions about how to use glycolic acid safely in your skin routine.

Does glycolic acid make your skin rough?

Some have reported that glycolic acid made their skin a bit rough when they first started using it, but that’s normal. It’s a sign that glycolic acid is working its magic! As long as you aren’t noticing any signs of irritation, stay consistent with your glycolic acid and you’ll unveil smoother skin in no time.

Should I apply lotion after using glycolic acid?

For glycolic serums, apply onto cleansed skin and moisturize after. For glycolic moisturizers, stack them on top of a hydrating serum. As far as glycolic body products go, a lot of sources recommend slathering on lotion right after to support the skin barrier and keep the skin hydrated. However, do not apply lotion after using the POSHPEEL™ Pedi Cure Foot Peel! This could limit the efficacy of the peel and prevent the feet from properly shedding dead skin. Wait until the 3-week shedding process is complete to apply lotions or moisturizers.

How often should you use glycolic acid products?

Glycolic acid use varies widely and can be used anywhere from 2-7 times a week. It depends on the strength of the glycolic acid in the product you’re using and how you’re reacting to it. Be sure to follow the directions for the specific product you’ve chosen.

Why is it making my face tingly?

When you first incorporate glycolic acid into your facial care routine, you might notice a tingle that wasn’t there before. Don’t be alarmed, this just means the bonds between old skin cells are being broken down so they can naturally shed from the epidermis. You won’t see this process happening, but you’ll notice more radiant skin revealed over time. 

Embrace the glycolic acid goodness 

Glycolic acid isn't just a trend anymore. Derived from sugar cane, this alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) packs a punch in your skincare routine. As a chemical exfoliator, it effortlessly buffs away dead skin cells, revealing a smoother, more radiant complexion. But its benefits extend beyond the face—glycolic acid works wonders for body care too, from softening rough patches to preventing body acne. 

It's versatile, finding its way into various skincare products like serums, cleansers, toners, and exfoliators. Its benefits are backed by science, promoting collagen production, treating acne, reducing fine lines, and brightening skin tone.

If you're looking to level up your skincare routine, glycolic acid is your go-to ingredient. From head to toe, it promises smoother, clearer, and more radiant skin. The glow-up is real!

Check out more Patchology body care sheet masks