Should I Use A Glycolic Face Wash?

Fresh and lovely woman washing her face Bliznetsov

Glycolic acid is found in numerous skin-care products, from scrubs to toners, but will using it in your facial cleanser give you gorgeous skin?

Using a glycolic face wash can help brighten skin, and help with acne and oily skin, says Dr. Jeffrey Dover, a Boston dermatologist and co-director of SkinCare Physicians. "It can lighten brown spots and help even out skin color," he says. Dr. Dover recommends using it daily if you'd like or limiting it once a week if your skin is having an adverse reaction. "Some skins find glycolysis very irritating, mine included," says Dr. Dover.


Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), popular ingredient that cause exfoliation, or shedding of dead skin cells. The amount of exfoliation that occurs depends on how much and which kind of AHA being used, its pH level, and other materials used in the product. [source: FDA] Exfoliation is an important part of your skin-care routine, because it brightens a dull complexion, sloughs off dead skin cells and leaves your skin soft and smooth. If you're acne-prone, removing these dead skin cells also makes you less likely to break out. Some skin care experts also believe it helps prevent fine lines and wrinkles. [Cleveland Clinic]

In general, a glycolic face wash is good for people with all types of skin, unless they're very sensitive. "If it results in the skin turning red or feeling like it's burning, I would tell patients to use it less frequently," says Dr. Joshua Fox, Medical Director of Advanced Dermatology PC. "Glycolic acid is available in different percentages, so go with a lower percentage product if it's causing a reaction or skin discomfort," recommends Dr. Fox. Aim for between products with concentrations of just 10-15 percent of glycolic acid.

Some studies show that using certain AHAs may increase sensitivity to UV light, so if experimenting with glycolic face wash for the first time, be careful to slather on the sunscreen.

Using a glycolic face wash can lessen wrinkles, rejuvenate skin, minimize acne scarring, and it helps medicine penetrate better and work more effectively. "I often recommend patients use it with other medications for acne," says Dr. Fox. However, he suggests you don't use glycolic face wash and lotion together; choose one or the other.

Learn more about how glycolic acid lotion works here.


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  • Jeffrey Dover, Personal correspondence. August 1, 2013.
  • Joshua Fox, Personal correspondence, August 8, 2013
  • FDA, "Alpha Hydroxy Acids in Cosmetics"