Glycolic acid: everything you need to know

If you've never heard of glycolic acid before, it's high time you did! It's the star acid of chemical exfoliation (or peeling), and a perfect replacement for the small grains found in many facial scrubs, which tend to be a little too aggressive for the skin. At Oh My Cream, we're big fans of glycolic acid, which can really make a difference to the skin: tighter pores, a more even complexion, softer skin, visible reduction in pigmentation spots, etc. You too can make a glycolic acid peel part of your beauty routine.

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What is glycolic acid and what are its properties?

Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring fruit acid that belongs to the alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) family, a group of acids widely used in cosmetics for their exfoliating properties. 

The advantage of glycolic acid? It has a low molecular weight. In other words, it has the ability to penetrate deep into the skin, making it all the more effective and powerful. 

A molecule with powerful exfoliating power, glycolic acid 'nibbles' at dead cells on the surface of the epidermis and slightly below, helping to smooth and even skin tone and deeply unclog pores. 

The benefits of glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is particularly recommended for treating pigmentation spots and blotchy complexions, as well as getting rid of blackheads and other imperfections. It also encourages cell renewal and the synthesis of collagen and elastin. Glycolic acid's multi-active properties make it an essential ingredient in any anti-ageing beauty routine. 

Glycolic acid can be found in many different types of beauty products: it is easily found in exfoliating lotions and very commonly in glycolic acid peels. At Oh My Cream, however, you won't find any glycolic acid cream.

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Why and how should a glycolic acid peel be performed? 

When we talk about a peel, we mean a chemical exfoliation based on fruit acids. The most common peel is the glycolic acid peel. A glycolic acid peel is used to exfoliate the skin to rid it of dead cells and encourage cell regeneration, resulting in clearer, smoother, more even skin. 

There are different degrees of peel power, more or less deep, depending on the concentration of glycolic acid (but also other exfoliating active ingredients such as retinol or salicylic acid). There are both gentle peels with 5% glycolic acid and more concentrated peels with 15% glycolic acid. So, if you have sensitive skin or have never used this type of exfoliant before, it's best to opt for gentle peels. Conversely, if you're used to using exfoliating products on your face, you can easily use more concentrated peels. 

Obviously, the more concentrated the peel, the more often it should be used. You should never use a glycolic acid peel more than twice a week (unless it's very, very gentle), as this can sensitise your skin. Finally, as with any exfoliating product, to avoid it being counter-productive, we recommend using it in the evening to limit any risk of photosensitisation. We also recommend that you always use sun protection as a complement. 

The results of glycolic acid peels can be seen very quickly. But for long-lasting results, nothing beats regular use (taking care not to over-exfoliate your skin, of course. ;-)

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Our favourite glycolic acid products

  • Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Serum: a multi-functional serum with a powerful formulation that acts as a skin perfector to reduce residual marks, smooth fine lines, plump and boost radiance.

  • Dermalogica Liquid Peelfoliant Daily Peeling: a peel with a powerful blend of acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, phytic acid, tranexamic acid, salicylic acid and gluconolacone) and enzymes to smooth the appearance of fine lines, visibly minimise pores and even out skin tone.

  • Ren Skincare Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask: a cocktail of fruit acids (including glycolic acid) to give your skin a new look almost instantly! This mask should be applied once or twice a week and left on for 10 minutes before rinsing.

  • Indie Lee Radiance Renewal Pads: cotton pads soaked in a glycolic acid and vitamin C solution for an instant radiance boost!

What are the contraindications to using glycolic acid? 

As with any exfoliating agent, redness may appear when using a glycolic acid peel, especially if the peel is highly concentrated in acid. Similarly, the application of a glycolic acid peel may cause a slight tingling sensation. This is completely normal! However, if you feel intense tingling or a burning sensation, your skin is probably not tolerating glycolic acid. Don't panic, just rinse your product off immediately with clean water and switch to less concentrated products or products based on another exfoliating agent such as BHA. 

Glycolic acid and the sun don't mix... It is a photo-sensitising active ingredient. It is therefore advisable to apply glycolic acid products in the evening and wear sun protection in the morning. As a general rule, do not carry out this type of peel if you are going to be exposed to the sun for any length of time. In other words, glycolic acid should be avoided during the summer holidays, and reserved for the autumn!

If you need personalised advice, particularly on which glycolic acid peel to use, don't hesitate to contact our Beauty Coaches via our chat or by email at consultation@ohmycream.com

The glycolic acid selection


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