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Les effets de l'acide glycolique sur l'acné.

What Are the Effects of Glycolic Acid on Acne?

Acne, sometimes called "acne vulgaris", affects not only teenagers, but also adults. It is characterized by an excess of sebum and the appearance of pimples: white spots, papules... Glycolic acid, which is present in many facial care products, is an excellent choice for skin prone to blemishes and acne.

Causes of the Appearance of Acne Pimples

Acne is an inflammatory disorder of the skin and more precisely of the hair follicles, characterized by the appearance of superficial acne lesions (comedones, papules and pustules) or deep acne lesions (nodules and cysts). This disease is very common in teenagers, but also occurs in some adults. It mainly affects areas rich in sebaceous glands, such as the face, upper back, neck, shoulders, etc...

Acne is the result of several factors that are linked together. It starts with either an excessive production of sebum or a thickening of the sebaceous gland duct wall (which connects the follicle to the skin surface), thus narrowing its diameter and partially blocking the release of sebum from the sebaceous gland. In other cases, acne can be induced by hyperkeratinization (poor evacuation of dead cells), trapping sebum in the follicle. This seborrheic retention is responsible for the formation of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads).

This oil-rich environment can lead to the abnormal growth of a pathogen, Cutibacterium acnes (formerly known as Propionibacterium acnes), on the skin surface and in the pilosebaceous follicles. This abnormal multiplication of the Cutibacterium acnes bacteria, usually well tolerated by the skin, causes the secretion of pro-inflammatory factors. The resulting inflammation can also be due to damage to the follicle. At this stage, papules or nodules are formed. However, the follicle may later be superinfected by other microorganisms present on the skin. This can lead to the formation of a pustule or cyst containing pus.

Acne is linked to multiple origins:

  • Hormonal fluctuations (during puberty, a few days before menstruation, during pregnancy, at menopause) ;

  • Genetics (family history);

  • Certain medications (oral contraceptive treatment, cortisone derivatives, certain antibiotics, lithium, certain antidepressants, antiepileptics, immunosuppressants);

  • Stress (production and release of substance P by nerve cells, which can influence sebum production);

  • Repeated rubbing of a particular area of the skin.

Once healed, acne can leave temporary or permanent scars (brown spots), especially when the acne was particularly severe.

Glycolic Acid: The Key Ingredient Against Acne Pimples.

Glycolic acid is an effective treatment for oily and acne-prone skin. Its main property is to be keratolytic, thus preventing the accumulation of cellular waste on the surface of the epidermis. Indeed, by simple contact and without rubbing, glycolic acid will weaken the lipidic bonds between the cells of the corneous layer to release the dead cells from the skin. This property will thus make it possible to gradually remove the obstruction of the pores and to support the evacuation of the sebum.

It is also equipped with regulating sebum. Indeed, glycolic acid allows to fight against the abnormal accumulation of sebum in the dilated pores of the skin which causes the formation of acne. Known as the smallest of the alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), glycolic acid is able to easily penetrate the skin's layers. It works on the surface as well as deep down.

Studies have reported that glycolic acid also has an interesting bactericidal activity in an acidic pH environment around 3 to 4.5, even at low concentrations (< 10%). It can thus inhibit the proliferation of Cutibacterium acnes on the skin of patients with acne vulgaris, in particular by disrupting the integrity of the bacterial cell membrane. Typically, high concentrations of glycolic acid (>30%) are used to exfoliate the skin and unclog pores, while lower concentrations (<15%) are used to prevent pore blockage.

Finally, glycolic acid is used to brighten and even out facial skin tone. It then reduces the appearance of acne scars, as well as pigmentation spots. This phenomenon is linked to its role in the elimination of melanin-rich skin cells on the surface of the epidermis and in the regeneration of cells in the basal layer of the skin. In addition to this, glycolic acid has the ability to inhibit the production of excess melanin, thus preventing the pigments that cause spots from marking the skin.


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

  • TSANKOV N. & al. Drug-induced acne. Clinics in Dermatology (2017).

  • 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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