Beauty

What is Glycolic Acid and What Does it Do for Your Skin

What Is Glycolic Acid and
What Does It Do for Your Skin?

There’s nothing like adding alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and their cousin, beta hydroxy acid (BHA, also known as salicylic acid), to your morning and/or nighttime routine. Whether used as the key ingredient in a powerful once-a-week, overnight peel or as an adjunct to make a great self-tan work even better, AHAs and BHA are powerfully effective compounds that fit easily into a clean and nontoxic skin-care regimen for noticeable results.

Glycolic, lactic, citric, and malic acids all fall under the exfoliating AHA category and work by gently removing the top layer of dead skin cells (along with pollution, grime, makeup, and anything else that might potentially clog pores) through a natural chemical exfoliation. Salicylic acid works in a similar manner. The advantage of chemical exfoliation is that it’s extremely even, unlike a physical exfoliation, with a gritty scrub or the rough surface of a washcloth, which can cause microtears in skin. The results are the reason AHAs are so beloved by so many different skin types: They can help unclog pores, soften the appearance of wrinkles, and minimize the visibility of dark spots, and they can even help increase moisture in skin. After a good exfoliation with AHAs, your skin should be soft and smooth and look decidedly glowier.

Like all exfoliants, AHAs and salicylic acid facilitate the absorption of any treatment that follows. Different types of acids yield different benefits, so it’s often useful to combine them in skin treatments. Glycolic, for instance, is the smallest molecule among the alpha hydroxy acids, so it can go deeper into the layers of the skin; it was initially developed for the treatment of extremely dry skin. Salicylic acid (which is the same compound as aspirin) has soothing properties, so it can be helpful for breakout-prone skin.

The concentrations of a particular acid within a formula can make a big difference in results: At lower concentrations, AHAs can be gentle enough for even sensitive skin. At higher concentrations, like the 15% glycolic acid in the new GOOPGLOW Overnight Glow Peel, they can work powerfully to retexturize, smooth, clarify, and refine.

Whether you’re dealing with dryness, sun damage, blemishes, or dullness or you just want your beautiful skin to continue to be beautiful as you age, AHAs and BHA are a brilliant way to improve your skin in both the short and long term, without potentially toxic ingredients. The formulas below are all infused with alpha or beta hydroxy acids; pick and choose the best regimen for your skin’s needs (if you have sensitive skin, err on the side of caution when you’re using any exfoliating acids), then stick with it, and you should see a major difference in your skin.

  1. 1

    PEELS

    At-home peels are genius for refreshing and resurfacing skin and cost a fraction of what an in-office treatment goes for.

  2. The Once-a-Week
    Superpeel That Works
    While You Sleep

    GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic Overnight Glow Peel
    goop Beauty
    GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic
    Overnight Glow Peel

    goop, $125
  3. Daily Resurfacing
    Treatment

    The Organic Pharmacy Four Acid Peel
    The Organic Pharmacy
    Four Acid Peel
    goop, $55
  4. Radiance-Boosting
    Miracle (That Smells
    of Cherries)

    Naturopathica Sweet Cherry Brightening Enzyme Peel
    Naturopathica
    Sweet Cherry Brightening
    Enzyme Peel

    goop, $58
  1. 2

    MASKS

    Skin gets a thorough detox when the botanicals, alpha hydroxy acids, and phytonutrients in your face mask can work in synergy. Smooth any one of these onto cleansed skin, wait the suggested amount of time (or less, depending on how sensitive you are), rinse—and relish the glow.

  2. For Under-Eyes

    Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Instant Eye Lift Algae Mask Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Instant Eye Lift Algae Mask
    Juice Beauty
    Stem Cellular Instant
    Eye Lift Algae Mask – single

    goop, $10
  3. For Allover Glow

    goop by Juice Beauty Exfoliating Instant Facial goop by Juice Beauty Exfoliating Instant Facial
    goop by Juice Beauty
    Exfoliating Instant Facial
    goop, $125
  4. For Body

    True Botanicals Resurfacing Body Mask True Botanicals Resurfacing Body Mask
    True Botanicals
    Resurfacing Body Mask
    goop, $48

3

CLEANSER

No matter your skin type, you can boost radiance, help soothe blemishes, and soften the appearance of lines and dark spots with a cleanser infused with alpha hydroxy acids. Everyday exfoliating is gentle on skin yet steadily glow-increasing.

  1. For Normal/Dry Skin

    Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Creamy Bubbling Cleanser Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Creamy Bubbling Cleanser
    Alpyn Beauty
    PlantGenius Creamy
    Bubbling Cleanser

    goop, $36
  2. For Oily/Combination

    Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser
    Dr. Barbara Sturm
    Enzyme Cleanser
    goop, $75
  3. For All Skin Types

    Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash
    Ursa Major
    Fantastic Face Wash
    goop, $28
  4. For Blemish-Prone Skin

    Beautycounter Countercontrol Clear Pore Cleanser Beautycounter Countercontrol Clear Pore Cleanser
    Beautycounter
    Countercontrol Clear
    Pore Cleanser

    goop, $26
  1. 4

    TONER

    Toner is great for targeting clogged or enlarged pores. Smooth it on after cleansing and before moisturizing to sweep away remaining dirt, oil, or makeup. It’s an especially important step to stave off blemishes.

  2. For All Skin Types

    The Beauty Chef Probiotic Skin Refiner The Beauty Chef Probiotic Skin Refiner
    The Beauty Chef
    Probiotic Skin Refiner
    goop, $75
  3. Grown Alchemist Balancing Toner Grown Alchemist Balancing Toner
    Grown Alchemist
    Balancing Toner
    goop, $34
  4. For Blemish-Prone/
    Combination Skin

    Beautycounter Countercontrol Instant Matte Toner Beautycounter Countercontrol Instant Matte Toner
    Beautycounter
    Countercontrol
    Instant Matte Toner

    goop, $29

5

SERUM

Serums’ silky texture makes them brilliant for targeting any number of skin issues, including dullness, blemishes, dryness, and more.

  1. For Aging Skin

    Tata Harper Elixir Vitae Tata Harper Elixir Vitae
    Tata Harper
    Elixir Vitae
    goop, $400
  2. For Blemish-Prone/Sensitive Skin

    Marie Veronique Intensive Repair Serum Marie Veronique Intensive Repair Serum
    Marie Veronique
    Intensive Repair Serum
    goop, $90
  1. 6

    ESSENCE

    Water-soluble treatments made from distilled botanicals, essences are used right after cleansing and before moisturizing to infuse skin with nutrients and moisture. This one hydrates, tones, and mildly exfoliates with a blend of lactic acid, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid.

  2. Vintner’s Daughter Active Treatment Essence
    Vintner’s Daughter
    Active Treatment Essence
    goop, $225
  1. 7

    FACE MOISTURIZER

    Moisturizing makes lines and wrinkles less visible; moisturizers that have even small concentrations of alpha hydroxy acids can have an even more significant line-smoothing effect.

  2. For Combination/Blemish-Prone Skin

    Beautycounter Countercontrol Matte Effect Gel Cream
    Beautycounter
    Countercontrol Matte Effect Gel Cream
    goop, $39

8

BLEMISH TREATMENTS

AHAs can dissolve oil, dirt, makeup, pollution, and other residue, making them excellent for oily skin; salicylic acid both exfoliates and soothes.

  1. Spot Treatment

    Tata Harper Clarifying Spot Solution Tata Harper Clarifying Spot Solution
    Tata Harper
    Clarifying Spot Solution
    goop, $35
  2. Daily Allover Gel

    Beautycounter Countercontrol All Over Acne Treatment Beautycounter Countercontrol All Over Acne Treatment
    Beautycounter
    Countercontrol All
    Over Acne Treatment

    goop, $39
  1. 9

    SELF-TANNER

    The AHAs in this fluffy, invisible tanning mousse help exfoliate for a smoother finish and help the tanning ingredients penetrate deeper for a longer-lasting tan.

  2. Vita Liberata Invisi Foaming Tan Water
    Vita Liberata
    Invisi Foaming Tan Water
    goop, $39
  1. 10

    SHAVING CREAM

    Even a small dose of AHAs in shaving cream helps produce a smoother finish. This one also includes soothing botanicals to protect against razor burn and smells fantastically of spruce and ginger.

  2. Ursa Major Stellar Shave Cream
    Ursa Major
    Stellar Shave Cream
    goop, $24

Make sure to pay attention to product directions and warnings because some acids should not be mixed.

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