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Glycolic Acid Side Effects

Glycolic acid is among the natural fruit acids that is widely used in skin resurfacing or exfoliation. Despite all the benefits, its side effects should not be ignored.
BeautiSecrets Staff
Last Updated: May 11, 2018
The AHA Effect!
Glycolic acid is deemed a supremely effective alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). Thanks to its bantam molecular structure, it can penetrate the epidermis with ease! An enchantment of sorts, the Egyptian royalties smeared madeira, that constituted glycolic acid, to keep their skin supple and lissome. It is no wonder that today, AHA whipped in cosmetic jars is considered one midas potion for your skin!
Glycolic acid is an essential ingredient in many skin care products, including lotions, acne gels and exfoliating chemical peels. It is actually a member of the group alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are generally known as fruit acids. This chemical peel is widely used in skin resurfacing, in order to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, acne scars, and other signs of aging like skin discoloration and age spots. Other than this acid, salicylic and lactic acid are also used in chemical peels for skin resurfacing. Besides being widely popular for its cosmetic use, it is also used in higher concentration for several industrial purposes, including rust removal and degreasing.
A Few Side Effects
Most of these side effects arise because of its use in higher concentration, which is the case with many chemical peels. Its concentration in chemical peels can go up to 50% or higher, which raises several safety concerns. This is because, any product with a concentration of more than 10% glycolic acid is not considered safe. On the other hand, a low concentration of this acid is claimed to be almost ineffective in providing any significant benefit for the skin. Therefore, its concentration in many products is kept at a higher level in order to make them more effective. Elucidated below are some side effects and benefits of using glycolic acid.
The most commonly known side effects of using glycolic acid are peeling, leaving behind black or brown spots, and scabbing.
A few more adverse effects of this chemical are skin inflammation, redness, and itchiness.
It makes the skin prone to sun damage. However, this side effect can be avoided by using a good quality sunscreen, after exfoliating the skin.
Another (normal) side effect of using these chemical peels is swelling  and a stinging sensation. The skin will look red and may continue to peel for a few days after applying glycolic acid peels, which will eventually disappear within a week or so.
Skin dryness, flaking, and scarring  are some other side effects of this chemical. Nevertheless, skin dryness and flaking can be termed as a sign that the peel is working properly, i.e., it is exfoliating the skin. On the other hand, scarring is a very serious side effect of this peel.
Apart from scarring, skin crusting  can also occur, especially where highly sensitive skin is concerned. Rarely, changes in the skin tone have been observed in some individuals after using it. This can be more common in people with a darker skin tone. Therefore, darker-skinned people should be particularly careful while using this topical medication. They are not only prone to develop skin discoloration, but also scabbing and skin irritation.
Note - It is very important not to graze or tease the scabs, no matter how much it irritates you.
The Benefits
Glycolic acid is a natural product that is derived from sugarcane and citrus fruits, and is considered as one of the mildest acids to be used in chemical peels. The main benefit of using this medicine is that it helps to get a younger-looking skin, by diminishing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. It actually removes a very thin layer of the outer skin and helps get rid of dead and damaged skin cells. This is the reason why the skin looks smoother and more radiant after its usage. Therefore, it basically acts as an exfoliating agent that destroys the bond that holds the dead skin cells to the surface, so that they can be removed to reveal a more younger-looking skin.
Apart from this, it can also stimulate the generation of new cells and collagen, which is a fibrous protein responsible for maintaining elasticity of the skin.
As glycolic acid is a natural substance, the use of it in lower concentration is not associated with any major side effect. However, application in higher concentration may pose some risks. In order to avoid these unwanted effects, one should always go for it only after consulting an expert in this field, who would know about the various aspects of this type of skin treatment. Also, make sure you apply moisturizer and sunscreen lotion generously after using it. If used properly with adequate care and precaution, it can provide satisfactory solutions to problems like oily skin, acne and acne scars, dry skin, acne-prone skin, and most importantly, for anti-aging.
Disclaimer: This BeautiSecrets article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.