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Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant that provides solutions for a wide spectrum of skin concerns including dullness, uneven texture and tone, blemishes, and any signs of skin aging. Highly acclaimed and high-performing, glycolic acid’s primary function is to remove dead skin cells and increase cell turnover. The smallest alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) means it can easily penetrate deeply into skin, making it beneficial for unclogging pores and thoroughly cleansing your face. Scientifically developed and available in cleansers, serums, toners or creams, SkinCeuticals glycolic acid formulas visibly improve the appearance of fine lines, even texture and tone, and add radiance to skin.

Learn more about glycolic acid


Derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid is the smallest of the alpha hydroxy acid family. Alpha hydroxy acids (or AHAs) are a group of plant and animal-derived acids used in a variety of skincare products. Glycolic acid is molecularly small yet power ingredient which works deep within the skin (rather than just at the surface level). It exfoliates to remove dead and damaged skin cells and excess oil while producing a brightened, renewed complexion. This exfoliation formula promotes cellular turnover, which helps minimise the appearance of fine lines, uneven texture, and dull skin tone.

glycolic acid

glycolic acid explained

Why is glycolic acid good for skin?

The body’s largest and visible organ, skin is constantly growing and regenerating itself. It has a natural exfoliation cycle to shed dead skin cells and replace with new, healthier cells on a regular basis. For a young adult, this turnover process occurs every 28 days however this process grows sluggish as the person ages and leads to a build-up of dead skin cells on the top layer of skin. This results in dull skin, an uneven tone and blemished texture. Glycolic acid is an essential ingredient that accelerates the rate of cellular turnover, promotes skin clarity, more even skin tone and skin texture.

Glycolic acid dissolves the bonds that bind surface dead cells to the skin. Glycolic acid will also clear your skin so that future products and active ingredients can penetrate the skin more effectively. Unlike more abrasive formulas, glycolic acid is a gentle yet effective exfoliator.

Is glycolic acid safe?

Yes, when used in moderate concentrations, glycolic acid is safe to use and can be tolerated on a nightly basis. Glycolic acid treatments come in a variety of strengths so it is important to identify the right concentration for your specific skin concern or skin type.

When looking for an effective night time treatment that primarily targets visible signs of aging, a 4-10% concentration of glycolic acid is recommended. 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. Some acne formulas also often have low levels of glycolic acid to enhance skin detoxification and turnover. Any glycolic acid formulation featuring a concentration above 20% should be recommended and administered by a  skincare professional, including  chemical peels. Like all alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic acid can make your skin more sensitive to the sun so wearing  high SPF sunscreen  whenever you are using glycolic acid treatments is a must.

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?

There are a wide range of skin care products on the market that count glycolic acid as one of the core ingredients. However it is not enough for a product to merely feature glycolic acid. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a product, pH level being one such factor. Glycolic acid’s effectiveness is determined by its free acid value - the amount of acid available to work on your skin. Acid concentration and overall formula pH have a direct impact on the products’ overall performance and results. 

A glycolic acid concentration of 4-10% is ideal for daily use but a lower pH is necessary to preserve the strength of the glycolic acid for optimal efficacy. As pH levels increase, glycolic acid may become largely neutralised, decreasing the effectiveness and strength level due to glycolic acid being neutralised. Always look for the free acid value in a glycolic formula, not just the total concentration claimed. The key is finding a formula featuring the right balance between glycolic acid concentration and pH levels for your skin concern and skin type.
A unique formula of 10% glycolic free acid value, a soothing complex, and 2% phytic acid, SkinCeuticals 

Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight  cream is the perfect combination of performance effectiveness and skin safety 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?

Formulated with glycolic acid as the primary exfoliant, a glycolic acid peel is a chemical peel that deeply exfoliates the top layer of skin revealing new healthy skin below. Due to higher levels of glycolic acid than in your at-home treatments, peels are performed by a skincare professional. By vigorously activating skin and increasing cell turnover, the results of a glycolic peel include 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. The length of the peel is determined by the concentration, skin type and the patient’s reactivity to the treatment. The formula is then neutralised with a buffering solution or water.

Skin is extremely sensitive after any chemical peel and is more vulnerable to damage from environmental factors, especially the sun. It is imperative that a  high SPF sunscreen  is stringently applied daily. Your skincare professional may also recommend a post-procedural daily skincare regime to help maintain the results of your glycolic acid peel and protect your new skin.

Learn more about chemicals peels >

What are the benefits of a glycolic acid regimen?

If you are looking to transform the appearance, tone, and texture of your skin, and increase your skin’s radiance, glycolic acid is the high performance ingredient you should add to your daily skincare regime. 

SkinCeuticals has scientifically developed several products that contain glycolic acid that are formulated for daily use. Glycolic Renewal Cleanser is a perfect exfoliant for use in both the morning and evening as a first step in your routine. At night, Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight treatment is a great way to finish your daily regime.

It is common to experience mild symptoms of skin detoxification such as redness and temporary skin purging when using products with a high glycolic acid concentration. Generally, these side effects resolve with continual use. Please consult your skincare professional about specific skin concerns.

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