Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s derived from common, sugar-laden fruits, including pineapple, papaya, and unripened grapes. It’s a popular acid in skincare because it’s water soluble and also the smallest of all the AHAs, which means it easily sinks into skin to impart its goodness.
“It works by penetrating the top level of the skin and breaking down damaged surface cells,” explained Dr. Mark Gray, a Harvard-trained pathologist and dermatologist and the founder of Ao Skincare. “It is essentially an exfoliant, and can be superficial or deep depending on the concentration or strength.”
Over the counter products contain mild concentrations of glycolic acid, but if you want a heavy-duty exfoliation via GA, then you’ll want to head to a professional clinic or spa.
“Frequent use of the appropriate formulation can lead to significant improvement of acne, as well as a reduction in fine lines and irregular texture of sun-damaged and aged skin,” added Dr. Brian Zelickson, a dermatologist and the founder of MD Complete.
He added that when using glycolic acid, it’s super important to lather on sunscreen, as it can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays.