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Glycolic Acid for Acne

Glycolic Acid for Acne

Glycolic acid, a naturally-occurring compound in sugarcane, commonly used in skin care products, has proved beneficial for the treatment of various skin-related problems like acne, due to its excellent penetration capacity. This article provides some information about its use for the treatment of acne, as well as about its benefits and risks.
Aastha Dogra
Acne is a skin condition which occurs in people during the adolescent years. A majority of people are able to get rid of it by the time they reach their twenties. However, in some, this condition may persist even in their thirties and forties. The causes of this skin problem include excess oil and sebum production, clogging of the hair follicles, or presence of acne-causing bacteria in the skin. There are several salon, medical, and home treatments that help in getting rid of this problem. Out of these, glycolic acid is fast becoming very popular as it is believed to be effective in the treatment of acne.

Glycolic acid belongs to a group of chemicals known as the alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or fruit acids. It is a natural product which is isolated from sugarcane. It is able to penetrate the skin easily as it is the smallest AHA. Due to this, it is effective for the treatment of various skin problems that include blackheads, fine lines, uneven skin, acne scars, etc.

How Does it Work?

When used on the skin, it reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis, breaking it down by dissolving sebum and other substances that bond the dead skin cells. Dead skin cells that cause clogged pores, can then be rinsed away. It also promotes firming of the skin. Furthermore, it helps to restore the pH value of human skin (healthy skin is naturally acidic with pH 4.5-5.5) in the cases of imbalance due to hormonal problems, too much sun exposure, poor diet, etc.

It is important to check the concentration and pH levels of glycolic acid mentioned on the product. When the percentage is high and the pH is low, it could lead to more irritation. Ideally, it should not be applied in concentrations that are higher than 10%, otherwise it can prove to be quite damaging for the skin. That's why most products having it as an ingredient, contain concentrations between eight to ten percent. The numerous skin care products that are available in the market include gels, face washes, lotions, chemical peels, etc. Regular application of these gels or face washes can be very effective in getting rid of acne. Furthermore, these lotions and creams even help in moisturizing acne-prone skin without making it oily.

Glycolic acid peel facials, the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels, or chemical peels that use a high percentage of this acid might prove beneficial if applied carefully and with the required safety precautions. Treatment using these chemical peels is administered at various salons and spas to treat acne. It usually involves the use of facial peels, once a week, for up to six weeks. In every facial session, the chemical peel containing glycolic acid is applied to the face. If the skin has not cleared, the treatment plan can be followed with another series of the same after a few weeks, as a break would be necessary.

A good treatment would not only help clear acne on the skin but would make it more resistant to future breakouts of the same. It also benefits by reducing acne scars and dark spots. This is because it would propel the formation of new cells on the surface of the skin. When new cells are formed, old scars would automatically be diminished. Also, the recovery time of this facial is much less in comparison to other chemical peels.


It is very acidic in nature. This makes it ideal for skin exfoliation. Being acidic, when it is applied on the skin, it permeates deep inside. It removes the oil and dirt which holds the dead cells of the skin together. Next, it makes the skin free of the dead cells thus revealing a fresh skin surface. When the skin is thoroughly cleaned of oil, dirt, and dead cells, the chances of acne are reduced.

It is also a natural moisturizer. The affected person's skin is usually very sensitive and oily, and to moisturize such a skin, lotions and creams containing glycolic acid are ideal.


Its regular use can make the skin very sensitive to sunlight. So, if one is undergoing this treatment, one would have to apply a sunscreen with minimum SPF 30 to avoid sunburns while going out in the sun.

The affected person might experience some sort of redness on the face, for a few days after the usage. In addition to this, skin irritation, discoloration, or swelling may occur. This is because a facial peel may contain the acid in a high concentration.

A concentration of 10% or less as a lotion or cream is considered to be safe when applied as directed. However, higher concentrations can cause damage to one's skin that can also include irritation, frosting, pigmentation, and thinned skin.

Using other products containing Vitamin A, AHA, or taking other medications could lead to reactions on the skin.

The products with pH 3-4 are believed to be of a good range for its effectiveness.

Following this method for treating acne might prove beneficial when the necessary precautions such as applying sunscreens and opting for treatments with less concentration of glycolic acid, are considered. Furthermore, these effects are only temporary and will vanish within a few days. Moreover, the effects of this acid would vary from person to person. Creams with a concentration of 10% or less are believed to be safe for pregnant and breast-feeding mothers. However, it is always better to consult the concerned doctor before opting for the same.

Disclaimer: This BeautiSecrets article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.