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Everything You Need to Know About Glycolic Acid.

Everything You Need to Know About Glycolic Acid.

Obtained from beet, sugar cane or grape extracts, glycolic acid can be of natural or synthetic origin. Thanks to its many virtues, it is present in a number of skin care products. Here is what you need to know about this active ingredient.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is the smallest organic acid of the alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), also known as fruit acid, alongside lactic acid and citric acid. Obtained from cane, beet or grape sugar, this AHA has established itself as the top active ingredient for chemical peels thanks to its exfoliating power, i.e., it effectively removes dead cells from the skin's surface, boosting cell renewal. Moreover, it is distinguished from other AHAs by its small molecular size, which gives it an excellent capacity to penetrate the skin for a deep action. Acne, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, lack of radiance, scars: glycolic acid can also treat these problems. It is not surprising that it is formulated in creams, lotions, serums or in peeling solutions. This active ingredient is also used to stabilize the pH of cosmetics.

Glycolic Acid Benefits for the Skin.

It is a real ally in maintaining and promoting a healthy epidermis. In fact, this active ingredient has multiple benefits by acting at all levels to erase irregularities. Glycolic acid is known for its keratolytic effect. It helps to remove dead surface cells. The non-abrasive chemical action of this acid will break the bonds that retain dead skin to ensure effective and gentle exfoliation. This controlled desquamation thus makes it possible to activate the cellular renewal with the profit:

  • The appearance of the skin:

    Known for its exfoliating power, glycolic acid helps regulate the production of sebum in oily skin and thus inhibits the formation of imperfections, caused by a blockage of pores by dead cells at the origin of the appearance of blackheads and acne. Thus, as the pores are unclogged and less dilated, pimples and blackheads are less frequent. In addition, this active ingredient reduces acne scars thanks to its exfoliating action in favor of cell renewal. As a result, these skin irregularities are faded. Thus, this active ingredient promotes the homogeneity of the skin texture and allows achieving a smooth skin.

  • The complexion:

    Thanks to its peeling effect, this AHA effectively eliminates dead, dull and dehydrated cells from the surface of the epidermis. This exfoliating action allows healthy cells to emerge (cell renewal), which restores radiance and luminosity of the face. It can also reduce hyperpigmentation. Indeed, depending on the concentration of glycolic acid, exfoliation can get rid of melanin-rich skin cells on the surface of the skin. This phenomenon can even provoke cell renewal in the basal layer of the skin, the deep layer of the epidermis, where the melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, are located. This helps to reduce brown spots due to age or the sun (including the mask of pregnancy) and thus to lighten the complexion. It also participates in the synthesis of hyaluronic acid and provides a moisturizing effect to the horny layer of the skin. Result: the epidermis regains its firmness and the complexion its radiance, and the skin is plumped, softer and smoother.

  • Skin aging:
    Glycolic acid also acts on several levels to fight the signs of skin aging, in addition to its depigmenting action against brown spots, caused by an accumulation of melanin, which can appear with age. Indeed, this small organic acid can penetrate to the dermis. In this context, it can stimulate the synthesis of collagen and elastin, which weaken with age and are responsible for the skin's firmness and elasticity, and also the production of hyaluronic acid, a natural humectant responsible for the skin's hydration, which tends to progressively decrease with age. Thus, this ingredient helps the skin to maintain a good level of hydration, to firm up and tone up, but also to smooth out wrinkles and fine lines.

Glycolic Acid Benefits for the Scalp.

This AHA has also been shown to be effective in hair care, especially on dry, dull and oily hair. Indeed, due to its small molecular size, it quickly penetrates the surface of the hair to moisturize and revitalize it, thus improving the hair's resistance by reducing breakage and giving the hair shine. In cases of dandruff, its exfoliating action allows for deep cleaning of the scalp, facilitating its elimination. This will help to reduce flaking and strengthen the scalp. Glycolic acid also helps eliminate excess sebum, a problem encountered by oily hair.

In Which Treatments Is It Used?

Glycolic acid is present in numerous cosmetic products (serum, lotion, cream, mask, shampoo, etc.) and aesthetic treatments (chemical peels). However, not all glycolic acid treatments are equal. Its effectiveness depends on two factors: its concentration and the overall pH in the formula. In cosmetic products, its concentration varies between 4 and 10% depending on the needs of the skin and will allow for gentle exfoliation to more pronounced desquamation of the skin.

A concentration of 4% is sufficient to provide a moisturizing effect. These types of products can also be useful to prepare the skin to better tolerate more concentrated glycolic acid treatments by acidifying the corneal layer. Around 8 to 10%, the products, suitable for nighttime application, begin to have a keratolytic effect, such as a gentle peel, thus restarting the renewal of skin cells. These formulations will also help fight against skin irregularities (excess sebum, dilated pores, blackheads, etc.), incipient wrinkles and lack of radiance. Although the regulations do not provide for a maximum threshold of use, it is estimated that 20% is a reasonable limit for cosmetic care at home. At very high concentrations (>20%), peels must be performed under strict medical supervision in dermatologists' offices. This includes chemical peels, which require pre- and post-treatment care. They are particularly interesting for treating acne marks or pigmentation spots, as well as wrinkles. On the other hand, beauty salon peels should not exceed 20% glycolic acid. In short, the more concentrated the active ingredients in the skin care products, the more effective they are and the deeper their action.

In addition to the concentration of glycolic acid, the pH of the solution has an influence on the intensity of the exfoliation. The higher the pH, the more the glycolic acid's action is neutralized. On the other hand, a low pH makes it possible to preserve the power of the active ingredient and thus guarantee an optimal effectiveness. Similarly, the lower the pH, the more acidic and therefore irritating the product is.

At Typology, several products containing glycolic acid are offered:

  • An exfoliating serum: Composed of 10% glycolic acid, this care will play on the quality and texture of the epidermis by bringing hydration to the skin, thanks to its stimulating effect on cell renewal and the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, and by fighting against blackheads and dilated pores. We recommend using the glycolic acid serum for 4 weeks to see the effects: a smoother, more even complexion.

  • Exfoliating toner: With a glycolic acid content of 8%, this cosmetic helps exfoliate the skin, unclog pores and thus limit the presence of blackheads, and tighten pores. Thus, the glycolic acid lotion will allow the skin to regain a rejuvenated, toned appearance and a luminous and unified complexion.

  • An exfoliating night cream: Highly concentrated in AHA, this night cream eliminates dead skin and offers a scrubbing action. It will allow fighting day after day against blackheads and dilated pores.

A peeling mask: Composed of an exfoliating complex based on AHA and PHA, this concentrated gel-mask purifies the pores and evens out the complexion. Its scrubbing properties allow it to refine the skin texture and to reduce the appearance of blackheads.

Contraindications to the use of glycolic acid.

Generally well tolerated, glycolic acid is suitable for all skin types: dry, normal, combination and oily. However, its peeling action weakens the epidermis, making it more sensitive. Note that sometimes skin care products containing glycolic acid can cause slight tingling, tightness or redness. However, if you feel a burning sensation or intense tingling, your skin may not be able to tolerate it. If you feel discomfort or irritation, rinse your skin immediately and stop using the product. Don't hesitate to check the concentration of formulas to adapt the choice of skincare products you use to your skin's tolerance. They are not recommended for sensitive skin or pregnant women, due to their irritating effect and the high concentration of active ingredients.

In addition, like all fruit acids, glycolic acid is a "photosensitizing active ingredient", i.e. it can cause skin reactions under the effects of UV rays due to its keratolytic effect. It is therefore strongly recommended to apply skin care products containing glycolic acid only in the evening, and to protect yourself from the sun during the day with an SPF cream.


  • WON Y. H. & al. The effet of glycolic acid on cultured human skin fibroblasts : celle proliferative effect and increased collagen synthesis. The Journal of Dermatology (1998).

  • MAIBACH H.I. & al. Increased in vivo collagen synthesis and in vitro cell proliferative effect of glycolic acid. Dermatologic Surgery (1998).

  • GARG G. & al. Chemical peeling - glycolic acid in varying concentrations and time intervals. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology (2001).

  • THAPPA D. M. & al. Comparative study of trichloroacetic acid versus glycolic acid chemical peels in the treatment of melasma. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology (2010).

  • HEARING V.J. & al. Applications of hydroxy acids : classification, mechanisms, and photoactivity. Clinical Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology (2010).

  • KAWASHIMA M. & al. Glycolic acid chemical peeling improves inflammatory acne eruptions through its inhibitory and bactericidal effects on Propionibacterium acnes. Journal of Dermatology (2012).

  • GARG V. K. & al. Comparative study of 35% glycolic acid, 20% salicylic–10% mandelic acid, and phytic acid combination peels in the treatment of active acne and postacne pigmentation. Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery (2019).

  • CHO N. J. & al. pH-dependent antibacterial activity of glycolic acid: implications for anti-acne formulations. Scientific Reports (2020).


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