What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is one of the most popular alpha hydroxy acids used in skin care. It is a colorless, odorless, and hygroscopic crystalline solid that is highly soluble in water. The term “glycolic acid” was first coined in 1848 by a French chemist named Auguste Laurent. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is known as a fruit derived acid. It is the smallest form of an alpha hydroxy acid, making it the easiest to penetrate the skin. Glycolic acid can be found in many kinds of skin care products targeting the epidermis.

Benefits and Side Effects of Glycolic Acid


  • Shrink Pores: by seeping into the epidermis, removing the dead cells, allowing dirt clogging pores to loosen, therefore making the pores appear smaller.
  • Improve Acne: by removing layers of dirt and bacteria in problem areas.
  • Reverse Sun Damage: by stimulating the rebuilding of skin cells.
  • Anti-aging: by strengthening the deepest layer of the epidermis, softening fine lines, and plumping the face.

Side Effects

  • Irritation
  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Scarring
  • Pigmentation
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Thinning of the skin


  • Sunburn
  • Sensitive skin
  • Infection
  • Prone to cold sores
  • On acne medication

Glycolic Acid In The Treatment Room

When deciding whether or not to incorporate glycolic acid into your treatment, you must make sure to perform a thorough skin analysis on your client. You also want to keep in mind your client’s specific concerns and goals. Glycolic acid is good for exfoliating the skin, reducing fine lines, fading dark spots, evening out tone and texture, and preventing acne. However, glycolic acid does come with several side effects that you will need to be cautious of. It is very important to be aware of the concentration of glycolic acid you are using on your client. Glycolic acid is commonly found at a 10% concentration in most skin care products but can be as high as 30% to 40% in chemical peels. You want to ease your client into a regimen by starting with a low concentration of glycolic acid used one to two times a week. Then, depending on how the skin reacts, increase the concentration and usage.

Reference Links

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