Glycolic acid is a natural and highly effective way to exfoliate or improve the condition of your skin. When used topically, this natural acid helps remove dead skin cells that can benefit many common skin problems, from acne to wrinkles (and many others in between). Glycolic acid works by breaking the bonds of those old skin cells that are no longer needed, which can clog pores and make skin look dull. Many people's skin looks more revitalized after using glycolic acid.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) are commonly used in skin care products today. The most commonly used BHA in cosmetics is salicylic acid. AHAs commonly used in cosmetics include glycolic acid, malic acid, and lactic acid. As an AHA, glycolic acid is considered a "potent active compound" in the field of skin care. Glycolic acid, a colorless, odorless, alpha hydroxy acid, usually derived from sugar cane. Its chemical formula is C2H4O3. Glycolic acid can also be produced synthetically.
It is considered a hygroscopic (easily absorbs and retains water) crystalline solid. Glycolic acid is the smallest of the AHAs and has the simplest structure. Simple small molecules are said to easily penetrate the skin. In beauty products, you will often see the percentage of glycolic acid. For example, 10% glycolic acid means that 10% of the recipe is glycolic acid. A higher percentage means it is a stronger glycolic acid product.
Typically, glycolic acid acts as a skin exfoliant to help remove dead skin cells on the outside. It can also help remove excess oil.
As an effective skin care ingredient, it speeds up the skin's renewal process and improves texture and skin appearance. Dermatologists and estheticians may recommend glycolic acid for the following skin conditions: acne, blackheads, whiteheads, large pores, hyperpigmentation, sun spots (also known as age spots), signs of aging including fine lines and wrinkles, keratosis pilaris, hyperkeratosis, psoriasis.
Additionally, to improve various skin-related problems, glycolic acid can also increase collagen production. "Glycolic acid stimulates fibroblasts in the dermis to produce more collagen," according to Dr. Kenneth Howe, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City. Collagen production in the body naturally slows as we age, so increasing production can lead to younger looking skin, including firmer, smoother skin.