Knowing how to use glycolic acid properly will ensure you get the amazing benefits and none of the unwanted side effects.
Some people purchase the highest percentage they can find and use that, thinking the higher concentration means better results, faster.
This isn't true, and skin that isn't used to glycolic acid or is already sensitized will react severely.
This page starts with a summary of the important points if you want to get straight into it.
Continue reading for detailed information on how to use glycolic acid to ensure clear, healthy, awesome skin!
How To Use Glycolic Acid - A Summary
- Start with a product containing between 5 - 8%, and pH between 2 -4
- A lotion, toner or pad is the best choice as these stay on skin and are easy to incorporate into your routine
- Monitor how your skin reacts - if it becomes red or irritated at all, reduce usage to once every 2 or 3 days for a couple of weeks
- Increase concentration (%) if your skin no longer reacts as it did at the beginning (eg. tingling sensation is less, there is no redness)
- Or, add another low dose product such as a toner underneath the lotion
- Or, simply increase the usage of the same product, to once or twice a day
- Monitor your skin! You may not need to increase anything - plenty of people find using a good product with 5% concentration every day is enough to keep skin healthy and clear of blackheads and fine lines
- Make sure you use a good sunscreen every single day !!
The Importance of Concentration (%) And Building Up
Over the counter products containing glycolic acid range in concentration from 1% to 30%.
Chemical peels performed by dermatologists range from 30% to 70%.
In order to get the benefits of using glycolic acid at home, you can use a low percentage consistently as part of your skin care routine and get great results.
Once you've used these for a while you might like to incorporate home peels into your routine for even better results.
- For a over the counter, at home product, the best concentration to start with is 5% - high enough to make a difference but not so high to cause a reaction
- Evaluate how your skin feels while you use it - a mild tingling is normal the first few times, and is an indication it is working. It should not be painful or cause peeling/flaking after use!
- If this is too much you can decrease the usage to every second day - or some people may need to start at every few days. This is fine, as along as you listen to your skin.
- After a 3 or 4 weeks you can increase the strength. By now your skin will be used to the acid and will be able to handle higher concentrations. This is optional - regular use of your favorite 5% product is absolutely fine!
- Eventually using a product such as glycolic acid pads with a dose of 20% quite frequently is possible - build up to it and continue to monitor your skin. If at anytime it becomes sensitive or irritated, stop.
- Instead of increasing dosage in one product, you might like to just add another low concentration product into your routine - such as a glycolic cleanser with your lotion/toner.
- Some people claim anything lower than 20% concentration isn't worth doing - but this is dangerous as it can cause long term damage to skin if not used correctly. Low doses used consistently work best at restoring normal health, keeping it clear, and providing a fresh 'glow'.
The Importance of pH
After percentage (%)... a little bit about pH, which is just as important when using this acid.
Most over the counter glycolic acid products contain a pH of between 2 - 4. This is more acidic than skin's normal pH 4.5 - 5.5.
Acne especially can benefit from the use of glycolic acid for this reason - the protective layer on the surface of skin called the Acid Mantle needs to be in balance.
Detergents, sun damage, poor lifestyle etc can increase the alkalinity. Bacteria thrive in this environment which leads to acne breakouts.
Restoring the pH of skin back to it's acidic best, is a very important part of the treatment for acne.
Dermatologists and plastic surgeons can perform peels with a pH as low as 1. Again, this is only to be done by an experienced professional as this can severely effect the balance of skin. (Battery acid also has a pH of 1!)
So, we want a pH between 2 - 4.
Who Shouldn't Use Glycolic Acid?
Don't use if you:
Using glycolic acid in your normal skin care routine is easy once you know how, and the importance of building up your skin's tolerance. Remember, nothing beats consistency in skin care, and this is especially true when it comes to using this AHA.
It can remarkably improve the condition of skin by balancing the acid mantle, providing an even and deep exfoliation, and increasing cell turnover resulting in a healthy fresh face.
Follow these guidelines (and specific product instructions...), and enjoy the benefits!
In England or United Kingdom you can buy glycolic acid and salicylic acid for chemical peels here