Glycolic acid is a common component of anti-aging products, such as lotions, because it can refresh skin on the face and tops of hands. It exfoliates the surface layer, making skin look smoother by promoting healthy cell growth to replace the dead skin cells [source: Janes]. Used together with hydroquinone, a bleaching agent, it might help minimize or erase the appearance of age spots, acne discoloration or other hyperpigmentation. The glycolic acid lotion slowly gets rid of dead surface cells, allowing the bleaching agent to penetrate so that new cells are nonpigmented.
Glycolic acid lotion may also be beneficial for skin that is prone to acne. First, the acid has drying properties, which can be useful in combating oily skin. Also, as the acid exfoliates, it can clear up blocked pores and prevent future breakouts by keeping pores from getting clogged again by dead skin cells. This pore-cleaning property may also help in treatment of a similar skin condition -- folliculitis. Common in men, this acne-like disorder happens as a result of shaving nicks that can get infected with bacteria [source: Valeo]. By keeping pores open, glycolic acid may help prevent these conditions that result from dead skin cells not sloughing off naturally.
Other skin conditions that glycolic acid lotion might be used for include rosacea, a chronic inflammatory condition often characterized by a red face, and ichthyosis vulgaris, an inherited disease characterized by dry and scaly skin. A dermatologist might prescribe a mild glycolic acid wash or lotion as part of the treatment plan for rosacea to get the redness under control [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. There is no known cure for ichthyosis vulgaris, so the acid can help to manage the symptoms [source: Mayo Clinic].
As for safety, glycolic acid is commonly used in lotions and other skin care products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports a study by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel that found glycolic acid is safe to be used in cosmetics at a concentration of up to 10 percent [source: FDA]. Products with stronger concentrations may be safe in certain situations, such as when applied by an aesthetician or dermatologist.
Now that you know about the benefits of glycolic acid lotion, read on to learn more about how to use it.