Glycolic acid is probably the best-known chemical in a group of chemicals called Alpha hydroxy acids. Glycolic acid is a derivative of sugar cane, so some consider it a natural product. Interestingly, glycolic acid also has industrial uses, which includes rust removal and degreasing. Exposure of industrial strength gycolic acid is extremely dangerous to exposed skin. In fact, the US federal government considers any product with a concentration over 10% to be hazardous material.
Most people have heard of glycolic acid from its cosmetic uses and is generally used as a natural skin exfoliant and moisturizer. There has been debate over the safety and effectiveness of using glycolic acid in over-the-counter or prescription cosmetics. Some proponents have suggested that products with concentrations of less than 10% are practically useless. Many large-scale producers will not increase the levels greater than 10% for fear of class-action lawsuits but some smaller companies with high-end clientele do offer products that start at a 10% glycolic acid concentration.
Glycolic acid has grabbed quite a bit of attention in the beauty industry over the past 10 years because of the several different things it does which can be beneficial to the skin. It is a rapid exfoliant and dissolves fatty molecules that keep dead and dried skin cells on the surface. Over time it will also start working beneath the surface to produce more “advanced” results.
Some believe it can lighten pigmentation which was caused by sun damage and will stimulate collagen production. Collagen is one factor which keeps skin looking youthful and firm. Loss of collagen is a sign of aging skin. Dermatologists have also determined that glycolic acid is also excellent for skin which is acne prone. Because it works to destroy the bacteria which causes whiteheads and other acne people who experienced mild to moderate acne may benefit from using glycolic acid products on a semi regular basis.
Unfortunately, the results that are achieved by using glycolic acid will disappear once the individual stops using the products. This is because the dead skin layer will once again build up and the pores will become clogged. This will lead to acne outbreaks if the individual was so inclined and will also decrease the radiant youthful appearance that the individual once enjoyed.
The federal food and drug administration has approved glycolic acid for use in small concentrations for the general public. They do not consider it a drug and have stated there are no side effects when used according to directions. However, it does cause increased sensitivity to the sun in users. Individuals who choose to use glycolic acid products should use them at night, after cleaning their face and using either an astringent or toner. They should never be used in conjunction with products that contain retinoids or retinol.
Individuals who use glycolic acid should always use sunscreen every morning before going outside or even before sitting in front of the window. They should also avoid vigorous exfoliation or waxing of the skin such as the hair over the lip. Any product which contains glycolic acid should be thrown out six months after opening since, over time, Alpha hydroxy acids will become more potent and potentially irritating or dangerous.
Dermatologists are also able to use glycolic acid in the office to achieve a chemical peel. These take approximately 15 to 20 minutes and will range between 20% and 70% of glycolic acid, depending upon the skin sensitivity and skin type. The treated skin will be slightly pink immediately after the treatment and peeling will occur over the next few days. Individuals who choose to have a glycolic acid peel should be able to return to work immediately.
While you might normally find 2% salicylic acid or 10% glycolic acid in skin care products doctors can use higher percentages. Unfortunately, there are some places where you can purchase a glycolic acid in higher concentrations to be used at home. Individuals who use these peels without first consulting with a dermatologist may be faced with burns and scar tissue if used on the wrong skin type.
The decision to use glycolic acid in products for your skin is an individual one. While there appears to be significant benefits in those products which contain glycolic acid at 10% or less some may feel that the unknown health risks are not worth the benefits, and others may find that products at less than 10% provide benefits they couldn’t receive elsewhere.