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Active Ingredients: What to Pair With Glycolic Acid?

Active Ingredients: What to Pair With Glycolic Acid?

Cosmetic products are designed to treat a specific skin problem or to improve the regeneration of skin cells. There are treatments made up of a single active ingredient and others that combine several essential ingredients to increase the effects of the treatment. But, when it comes to mixing skincare, there are dos and don’ts. Here are some interesting facts about what to pair and what not to mix with glycolic acid.

A Few Words About Glycolic Acid.

Of natural or synthetic origin, glycolic acid is an acid categorized as an AHA or fruit acid used for its keratolytic properties. Considered one of the leading active ingredients in chemical exfoliation, this active ingredient is capable of eliminating dead skin cells to promote skin cell renewal. Glycolic acid is recommended for the treatment of combination to oily skin and skin with imperfections. However, it is not recommended for sensitive and atopic skin. In addition to its keratolytic effect, glycolic acid also helps to moisturize the skin's surface.

What to Pair With Glycolic Acid?

To increase its effects on the skin, it is possible to mix it with other active ingredients. However, be careful when you layer or mix glycolic acid with certain active ingredients. Indeed, a bad association can lead to side effects such as itching, skin inflammation, redness, etc. Here are the combinations to be favored when in doubt about what to pair with glycolic acid:

  • Combining glycolic acid with azelaic acid is particularly effective for targeting different skin problems, such as pimples or uneven skin tone (melasma, brown scars, etc…). Studies have shown that combining these two active ingredients with each other helps to even out your skin tone (reduce the appearance of pigmentation spots) and treat pimples. For example, to solve your blemish problem, you can apply the glycolic acid exfoliating lotion followed by the azelaic acid mattifying serum. With its exfoliating properties, glycolic acid promotes the absorption of azelaic acid.

  • If your skin tolerates retinol well, combining it with glycolic acid is a good idea because of their different actions. A study showed that the combination of glycolic acid and retinol was effective in treating acne and brown acne scars. However, this combination is not recommended if you have sensitive skin, as it can lead to dry skin. Alternatively, a good way to incorporate retinol into your beauty routine in addition to glycolic acid would be to alternate them every other night: one night using retinol, another night using a leave-on exfoliator followed by a moisturizer

What Not to Mix With Glycolic Acid.

Even if certain combinations of active ingredients are beneficial for the skin, others are not so beneficial because they can cause certain skin reactions, especially in people with sensitive skin. Here is what not to mix with glycolic acid:

  • Both glycolic acid and salicylic acid have an exfoliating effect on the skin. They are excellent ingredients to use separately, but mixing them could cause a skin reaction (dryness, irritation, redness) and compromise the skin barrier, especially if used on very dry and sensitive skin. The same would be true for the combination of glycolic acid and lactic acid.

  • While using niacinamide and glycolic acid together can help improve skin texture, pigmentation, acne, and signs of aging, layering these ingredients would be counterproductive. In fact, the glycolic acid serum has a low pH of 3 – 4, while the niacinamide serum has a higher pH of around 5 – 7. If they are mixed, the niacinamide will raise the pH of the glycolic acid treatment and the latter will be less effective. In addition, it can cause redness.


  • PINCUS S. H. & al. Efficacy and safety of azelaic acid and glycolic acid combination therapy compared with tretinoin therapy for acne. Clinical Therapeutics (1998).

  • NAVALE S. & al. Retinoic acid and glycolic acid combination in the treatment of acne scars. Indian Dermatology Online Journal (2015).

  • DUA R. & al. Combination of glycolic acid peel and topical 20% azelaic acid cream in melasma patients: efficacy and improvement in quality of life. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology (2017).


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