As a highly effective anti-aging active, glycolic acid is widely recognized among dermatologists for its ability to exfoliate, smooth, clarify and even out skin tone. Despite years of in-clinic and at-home use, glycolic acid remains a versatile skin care ingredient wrapped in myth. Today, we’re debunking five of the most common myths surrounding glycolic acid.
Myth #1: Glycolic acid irritates the skin
While some skin types can experience a reaction to glycolic acid (skin damaged by sunburn or vigorous scrubbing), in-clinic glycolic acid treatments and those sold in pharmacies for “at-home” use are safe and effective. However, it’s perfectly normal to experience a temporary tingling sensation or redness shortly after a glycolic acid-based product has been applied on skin. If these symptoms persist, rinse your face and space out your use of the product.
Myth #2: Glycolic acid’s exfoliating action only works on the skin’s surface
Glycolic acid’s exfoliating action works on two distinct layers of the skin: the outer layer (epidermis) and deeper layers. Exfoliation on the skin’s surface reduces dilated pores, blackheads, acne and pigment spots, while exfoliation within the deeper layers boosts production of collagen, hyaluronic acid and elastin to moisturize skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and prevent premature aging.
Myth #3: Sensitive skin won’t tolerate glycolic acid
Glycolic acid is an active ingredient indicated for sensitive skin. As a precaution, it is recommended to first test the product on a small area of the jawline before proceeding gradually.
- Begin with a low concentration of 5% every other day for 4 weeks, then gradually increase frequency, i.e., once a day, in the evening
- Once your skin has adapted to the lower 5% concentration, switch to the 10% concentration (the highest concentration approved by Health Canada for over-the-counter sale)
Myth No. 4: Glycolic acid is only effective on mature skin
Glycolic acid can be used by all ages to address different skin concerns:
- From age 15: to effectively treat acne
- From age 20: to prevent signs of skin aging, to even out skin tone, and to reduce blemishes and scars
- From age 30: to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- From age 50: to increase skin tone and firmness, and to prevent skin diseases
Myth #5: Glycolic acid treatments are not recommended for daily use
Home-based skin care products formulated with glycolic acid are gentle enough for daily use, year round. However, it’s essential to apply an SPF 30 sunscreen every morning. Since glycolic acid’s exfoliating action removes dead surface skin cells, the new, underlying skin cells are more vulnerable and sensitive to sunlight.
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