Glycolic acid is a mild form of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). The presence of the word acid in the description may seem a bit alarming, but a mild acid can be very effective when it comes to skin care. Here's why: The surface of your skin is protected by a thin layer of moisture and oil. Your skin is also constantly shedding dead cells. The dead cells can sometimes become trapped under or settle onto the protective moisture layer instead of falling off. Accumulated dead skin cells can create big problems, especially when you don't cleanse your face regularly and well. It can block tiny pores in the skin that can become infected and painful. It may also be a contributing factor in the development of skin conditions like acne. When your skin begins to age, dead skin cells can also settle into lines and wrinkles, making them appear more pronounced than they actually are.
This coating of dead skin and oil can sometimes be hard to wash off, too. That's were a mild acid comes in very handy. Glycolic acid is stronger than the natural acid balance of your skin but not strong enough to be harmful. Applying it regularly for a prescribed period can help make skin look younger, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, reduce discoloration and help control breakouts by stripping away dead skin and stimulating the new skin underneath. This process of removing dead skin and other debris is called exfoliation. Glycolic acid is available in over the counter as well as in stronger prescription strength preparations for use as an exfoliant.
Where glycolic acid and other AHAs were originally used as exfoliants and in the treatment of acne and other skin conditions, it wasn't long before dermatologists discovered a side benefit. The use of AHAs also increased the production of collagen in the dermal layer of the skin. Collagen synthesis benefits are usually associated with more concentrated glycolic acid formulations like deep peels, though. Today, glycolic acid is used in varying concentrations in many skin care products.
Glycolic acid isn't for everyone. If you have a rash or damaged skin, consult a dermatologist before using any AHA product. If you're pregnant or nursing, glycolic acid preparations are generally safe to use. Read the informational material and instructions on the products you buy carefully, and discuss changes to your skin care regimen with your doctor.