Ingredient Spotlight: Glycolic Acid

July 15, 2020

Give your skin a peel (pun intended!) with this chemical from sugarcane.

While benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, and salicylic acid are perhaps the top-of-mind ingredients of acne treatment, another one has made its way to the mainstream skincare scene: glycolic acid.

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sugar cane. Unlike oil-soluble beta-hydroxy acids that penetrate deep into the pores, AHAs are water-soluble compounds that work mostly on the outermost layer of the skin. But because its molecules are smaller than most other AHAs, glycolic acid can get deeper into the skin, too — so it’s both an anti-aging and an anti-acne wonder!

Here’s what makes glycolic acid a staple for both at-home DIY skincare and professional skin treatments:

It’s an amazing exfoliant

Glycolic acid gets rid of dead cells that have accumulated on the skin’s surface, revealing newer, younger skin underneath. This gives the skin a smoother texture, too!

It helps eliminate hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation refers to the dark spots or patches on the skin. It’s a result of melanin (the brown pigment that gives our skin its color) build-up, which is triggered by excessive sun exposure, aging, or acne. Along with dead cells, glycolic acid also removes hyperpigmentation on the skin’s surface — leaving you with a brighter and more even complexion.

It preps the skin for deeper nourishment

By clearing out the gunk on the surface, glycolic acid helps the skin better absorb nutrients from creams, ointments, and other skincare products.

It stimulates collagen production

Since glycolic acid goes deeper into the skin than other types of AHAs, it stimulates the cells to produce more collagen. Collagen is a kind of protein that’s naturally in our bodies that holds us together (literally!). It gives the skin its strength and elasticity, which prevents or reduces sagging, as well as the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.


If you’re thinking about incorporating glycolic acid into your skincare routine, the ideal concentration should be at 10% or lower — anything beyond that should only be administered professionally by licensed dermatologists. If you have dry or sensitive skin, be very careful how much you apply as too much of it can cause irritation.

And as with any ingredient or product that causes peeling, your skin will be extra sensitive to the sun, so be sure to lather on some SPF before stepping out.

Glycolic acid is one of the key ingredients in SMACNE’s powerful acne-fighting and skin-renewing treatment stack! Sign up for a free trial (just cover $7.95 for shipping) and get started on your journey to acne-free, awesome skin!

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