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The Surprising Benefits of Glycolic Acid for Your Skin

by Yu-Jun Park 05 Apr 2024

Hey pals! 

Take a leap into the skincare galaxy and discover the supernova of skin health — glycolic acid.

You've probably tripped over this K Beauty term while browsing Korean skincare forums or scanning the back of your posh K-Beauty products. 

But like a trendy nightclub, you probably thought, "What's the hype about?" 

Well, darling, here’s your answer… 

What does glycolic acid do for your face?

Glycolic acid, darling, is the skincare world's backstage VIP, making your skin's superstar dreams come true. 

But what exactly does it offer that's got everyone gushing? 

Let's delve into the glow-worthy science.

Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is the umbrella term under which glycolic acid — our star — performs its magic. 

Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and, notably, it's the smallest AHA. Oh, size does matter — in skincare at least. Because it is the smallest, it penetrates the skin with greater ease than larger molecules. 

What happens next? Exfoliation happens

Owing to its tiny size, glycolic acid gently yet efficiently breaks down the bonds holding the not-so-glam older skin cells to the skin's surface. 

Cue the entrance of vibrant, fresher skin cells that were overshadowed by their older counterparts. Exfoliation results in a brighter complexion, which means glycolic acid is basically the fairy godmother of glowing skin.

But that's not all. Brace for the plot-twist. 

Glycolic acid doesn't just stop at exfoliation. Oh, no, it’s an overachiever, boosting your skin's production of collagen and elastin. These are the fabulous proteins responsible for the skin’s structure and elasticity, you know, the things that keep your skin looking youthful.

And who doesn't want to look forever young?

While all that's happening, glycolic acid is also working tirelessly to reduce hyperpigmentation. Those stubborn, unwanted blemishes and sunspots from the past? Glycolic acid encourages an even skin tone, helping fade these dark spots into distant memories.

Despite being an A-lister in the skincare world, glycolic acid, like every star, isn't meant for all audiences. It may cause a slight sting or tingle, but fear not, that usually indicates the acid is serenading your skin cells. 

However, if your skin rehearsals result in redness or irritation, it might be wise to make a swift exit. Glycolic acid has a potent performance, and its potency might not resonate with extremely sensitive skin or those prone to rosacea.

To ensure your skincare concert goes without a hitch, it's recommended to perform a patch test before you let glycolic acid go full diva on your face. 

Remember to also soothe your skin by coupling glycolic acid with moisturizers and sunscreens, as AHAs are known to increase sun sensitivity. 

Let's also address the frequency of use here. 

Daily sessions could leave your skin feeling a bit raw from all that exfoliation. The key is to not over-saturate your skincare routine with glycolic acid. Welcome the star on alternate days or a few times each week, depending on your skin's tolerance.

To wrap it up, imagine glycolic acid as a multitasking all-rounder in the skincare industry’s stadium. It comes to the rescue by exfoliating and giving you more radiant skin, boosting collagen and elastin to prevent premature aging, and fading hyperpigmentation

While it's a true showstopper for some skin types, remember to tune into your skin's unique responses and needs when introducing this superstar. 

It's about finding the balance, honey, because in the amazing world of skincare, harmony takes center stage.

Is it good to use glycolic acid everyday?

Well, isn't that just the $64,000 question? How often should you engage in a face-off with glycolic acid? 

Let's dive right in. 

You see, glycolic acid is one of the heavyweight champs of the skincare world. But, like a champion, it needs to be managed well.

Daily use? That’s a bit like asking if you should work out every single day. Technically, you could. But would it be optimal? Not likely! The skin, much like the body, also needs its downtime to recover.

A quick refresher on the science: Chemically, glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs are water-soluble and work on the surface of the skin. They're mainly known for their exfoliating prowess.

Glycolic acid, specifically, is great for removing the outermost layer of dead cells from the complexion, revealing brighter, fresher skin. In essence, it gives your face a fresh paint job.

Sounds fabulous, right? And it is! However, "less is more" is a key principle here. Your skin is a sensitive creature. Too much exfoliation can lead to irritation, redness, and even breakouts.

A study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science notes that an overuse of AHAs can disrupt the skin’s pH balance. That could lead to more harm than glow.

So, what's the correct frequency, you may ask? Most experts agree that 2-3 times per week is the sweet spot for most skin types.

However, your skin’s specific needs and tolerance should dictate the final decision. If your skin is particularly resilient, you might be able to use it more often. But if you're on the sensitive side, once a week might be more than enough.

Also, don't forget that glycolic acid is not a standalone player. You should pair it with heavy hitters like sunscreen (by day) and a replenishing moisturizer (by night).


Because glycolic acid can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage. That's where sunscreen steps in as your defensive end, blocking harmful UV rays from doing a touchdown on your skin. 

At night, a hyaluronic acid-based moisturizer can serve as a hydrating follow-up. Think of it as the restorative yoga to the high-intensity interval training that is glycolic acid. 

To wrap up, glycolic acid is like a sparkling flute of champagne. It's delightful and can make you feel fabulous, but overindulgence? Not your friend. A little restraint goes a long way in maintaining a healthy, radiant skin.

Does glycolic acid whiten skin?

There’s been a buzz in the skincare community regarding the age-old question: Does glycolic acid whiten skin? 

So, let's put on our lab coats and demystify the science behind the acid's interaction with skin. 

The straight answer is, not really. 

What it does do, however, is pretty impressive. It's more accurate to say that glycolic acid evens out skin tone rather than whitens it. 

Here’s the scientific low-down: glycolic acid can work wonders by exfoliating the skin. You see, it magnificently breaks the bonds between the older, duller skin cells on the surface, making way for newer, fresher cells underneath. 

The result? A brighter refined complexion. This can be mistaken for whitening. It's not exactly changing your skin color, but rather revealing a version of your skin that's more radiant, smoother.

Moreover, another blessing of glycolic acid is its hero-level tackling of hyperpigmentation. Sun spots, age spots, or acne-related dark spots... glycolic acid has a penchant for diminishing these.

How's that possible? Well, it increases the speed of the skin’s natural exfoliation process, reducing the appearance of uneven pigmentation. Over time, this makes your skin appear brighter and more even-toned.

Now, don't assume this magic potion will give instant results. Like any good skincare regimen, consistent use and patience are prerequisites. You won't wake up after one night with a brand new face (though we all wish we could). 

Let's also note this: although glycolic acid can be a saving grace for many, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some skins may find it too harsh, leading to irritation or even peel. It's always wise to do a patch test or consult a dermatologist before including acids in your skincare routine.

Remember to slap on some sunscreen after using glycolic acid too. AHAs, including glycolic acid, make your skin more susceptible to the sun.

So, to sum things up: Does glycolic acid whiten skin? No, it doesn't. But it does exfoliate your skin, reveal fresher, brighter skin, and even out your skin tone. It can make a major difference in saying goodbye to dark spots and welcoming a more uniform complexion. 

Does glycolic acid have side effects?

The dark side of glycolic acid?

Just like any other celestial body, glycolic acid also has its dark side - what we call side effects. It's not all roses and stardust in the glycolic acid sector of our universe.

One could experience minor side-effects like redness, peeling skin, or dryness. 

The reason? Meddling with the skin’s surface is akin to throwing an asteroid party in your dermis - and we all know the aftermath of a good party! 

However, much like stardust settles down in the cosmos over time, these side-effects also diminish as your skin learns to adapt to this new dance.

Sunscreens: Your shield against cosmic rays

Here's a little pearl of cosmic wisdom. 

The glow-givers of the Korean cosmos, K-beauty sunscreens, should become your skin's faithful companion when venturing out with glycolic acid. 

Just as a spacesuit protects astronauts from harmful radiation, these sunscreens guard your skin against sun sensitivity - a commonality when associating with glycolic acid. 

The dermis dance-off

Delve deeper into the glycolic galaxy and we encounter an extraordinary phenomenon– the dermis dance-off! This is a spectacle unlike any others in the skincare cosmos.

Warning: You're about to experience the thrill of some serious skincare science.

You see, when glycolic acid starts its exfoliation dance, your skin cells don't just sit back and watch. They join the party too, boosting the production of vital components like glycosaminoglycans (hereafter referred to as GAGs) and collagen. 

Visualize this cosmic dance-off with glycolic acid as the lead dancer, twirling and pirouetting on the skin's surface. 

Responding to this, your skin cells shimmy their way deeper into your dermis, enhancing the suppleness and hydration of your skin. It's a symbiotic dance that leaves your skin firmer, more hydrated, and remarkably refreshed. 

The Final Take-Off

In conclusion, exploring the K-Beauty cosmos with glycolic acid could potentially be the best space mission your skin has ever embarked on. 

This alpha-hydroxy wonder may be the secret ingredient your personal Milky Way needs to unlock that coveted, otherworldly glow, firmness, and radiance.

Armed with these exciting galactic insights, it's time to blast off towards your K-Beauty journey. 

Amplify your skincare with the power of glycolic acid — in the form of a cream, a serum, or both! — and allow its cosmic powers to transform your skin.

Godspeed, fellow explorer - the stars are waiting!

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