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Learn more about glycolic acid


Commonly derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid is the smallest of the alpha hydroxy acids (AHA). This potent ingredient effectively loosens and releases dead and dehydrated cells, increasing the rate of exfoliation on the surface of the skin. This exfoliation promotes cellular turnover, which helps minimize the appearance of fine lines, uneven texture, and dull skin tone. The effectiveness of glycolic acid is determined by its free acid value - the active acid available to work on your skin.

glycolic acid

glycolic acid explained

Why is glycolic acid good for skin?

To fully understand why glycolic acid is good for skin, it is important to understand skin’s natural exfoliation process. Every month your skin sheds dull, dead skin cells to reveal newer, healthier cells underneath. On average, this natural exfoliation or cellular turnover occurs every 28 days in young adults. However, as skin ages, cellular turnover becomes more sluggish, resulting in a buildup of dead skin cells that contributes to dull skin, or uneven tone and texture.

Glycolic acid is an essential ingredient that helps slough away dead and dehydrated skin cells on the surface layer of the skin. Unlike abrasive mechanical exfoliants that can tear the skin and cause inflammation, glycolic acid efficiently dissolves the bonds that bind surface dead cells to the skin, providing a gentle, yet effective exfoliation. This accelerated rate of cellular turnover promotes skin clarity and a more even skin tone and skin texture

Is glycolic acid safe?

Overuse of any chemical or mechanical exfoliating agent can result in redness or irritation. However, in moderate concentrations, glycolic acid can be well tolerated for nightly use to help facilitate skin’s natural exfoliation. When considering a glycolic acid treatment for your skincare routine, it is important to identify the right concentration for your specific skin concern.

Concentrations under 4% provide low level exfoliation and may be used once or twice daily depending on the potency and pH value of the formula. Sometimes glycolic acid may be added to acne formulas at lower levels to enhance skin detoxification and turnover. If looking for an effective nighttime product that primarily targets visible signs of aging such as fine lines, dullness, and skin texture, a 4-10% concentration of glycolic acid is recommended. Any glycolic acid formulation featuring a concentration above 20% should be recommended and administered by a  skincare professional.This includes  chemical peels, which may require pre-conditioning and specific post-procedure care. Due to the exfoliating nature of glycolic acid, always apply a
  broad spectrum sunscreen  during the day when using these products.

finding the right concentration for your skin concern

<4% GLYCOLIC Low-level exfoliation

4-10% GLYCOLIC Targets signs of aging,
fine lines, and dullness

>20% GLYCOLIC Requires pre-conditioning and physician recommandation

What is the ideal pH level of a glycolic acid product?

Not all glycolic acid skin care products are created equal. The free acid value, determined by pH level and concentration, dictates how beneficial the glycolic acid treatment will be. A glycolic acid concentration of 4-10% is ideal for nightly use but a lower pH is necessary to preserve the strength of the glycolic acid for optimal efficacy. Always look for the free acid value in a glycolic formula, not just the total concentration claimed. As pH levels increase, glycolic acid may become largely neutralized, decreasing the effective acid level and weakening its strength. The key is finding a formula featuring the right balance between glycolic acid concentration and pH levels. 

Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight  provides a unique blend of 10% glycolic free acid value, a soothing complex, and 2% phytic acid, delivering the perfect formulation that is safe and effective for improving skin texture, radiance, and overall glow.

The effect of ph on the active concentration of glycolic acid

8.7% free
acid value pH 3

4% free
acid value pH 4

0.6% free
acid value pH 5

What is a glycolic acid peel?

Simply put, a glycolic acid peel is a chemical peel formulated with glycolic acid as the primary exfoliant in the peel solution. Performed by a skincare professional, these treatments exfoliate and resurface the topmost layer of the skin to reveal new, healthy skin underneath. They are effective in increasing cell turnover, softening the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and improving skin tone and texture. During a glycolic acid peel, one or more layers of the solution are applied onto the skin for a predetermined amount of time based on concentration, skin type, and the patient’s reactivity to the treatment. Once the solution is left on for the desired amount of time, the formula is neutralized with a buffering solution or water.

Following a glycolic acid peel, a skincare professional will apply post-procedure care, which includes a high  broad spectrum sunscreen  to help protect skin against damaging UVA/UVB rays. After any type of chemical peel, skin is more susceptible to damage from environmental aggressors. Therefore, it is key that sunscreen is applied daily and diligently. Your skincare professional may also recommend advanced homecare to help maintain and protect the results of your glycolic acid peel.

Learn more about chemicals peels >

What are the benefits of a glycolic acid regimen?

Adding glycolic acid to your daily regimen will help promote skin’s overall radiance. This potent ingredient provides gentle exfoliation to the skin in order to promote natural cell turnover. SkinCeuticals has several products that contain glycolic acid that are formulated for daily use.Glycolic Renewal Cleanseris ideal for use in both the morning and evening as a first step in your routine. This exfoliating cleansing gel targets the dull, rough skin on your face and wipes away long-wear makeup without stripping the skin of moisture. At night, round out your regimen withGlycolic 10 Renew Overnighttreatment which is formulated with a free acid value of 10% glycolic acid and is shown to amplify skin’s radiance by 36%.

With use of any high-concentration glycolic acid product, it is common to experience mild symptoms of skin detoxification such as redness and temporary skin purging. Generally, these side effects resolve with continual use. Please consult yourskincare professionalabout specific skin concerns.

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