The Effects of Glycolic Acid Products

Glycolic acid is a common ingredient in skin care products and also is used in chemical facial peels. It penetrates skin well and has certain effects that make it beneficial for skin. An alpha-hydroxy acid, glycolic acid occurs in several foods and is generally derived from sugarcane for cosmetic purposes.

Exfoliant Effects

In lower-percentage strengths, glycolic acid is a safe and effective exfoliant, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Glycolic acid sloughs away dead skin cells that can build up on the skin’s surface. These cells can trigger and worsen acne breakouts as they block pores and cause inflammation. Additionally, as people age, their skin sheds dead cells more slowly, and the accumulation can lead to an appearance of dull, aged skin.

Most glycolic acid skin care products contain 10 percent or less of the substance, but chemical peels typically provide around 30 percent, and some even higher. A glycolic acid peel removes the outer layers of skin so a healthy new layer of skin appears, as explained by Cosmetic Laser MD. The peel also stimulates the production of elastin and collagen, important for youthful-looking skin. A glycolic acid peel reduces uneven pigmentation and sun damage, decreases fine lines, minimizes pore size, and increases skin smoothness.

Skin Side Effects

Along with beneficial effects, the exfoliant action of glycolic acid can cause irritation as well. Some people experience temporary redness or stinging sensations, particularly with higher-strength products and peels. The FDA notes that applying glycolic acid and other alpha-hydroxy acids to the skin results in greater sensitivity to ultraviolet light, increasing the risk of sunburn. This effect disappears when the person stops using glycolic acid products.

Hair Care Effects

Glycolic acid included in hair care products helps hair stay strong and smooth, according to DuPont. It allows hair to hold moisture better, even at high temperatures such as when using hair drying, curling and straightening appliances. This makes hair less likely to weaken or break. Additionally, glycolic acid exfoliates the scalp so that dead skin cells can be easily washed away rather than building up as flakes (dandruff).

Cleaning Uses

In concentrations up to 70 percent, glycolic acid is effective at cleaning hard surfaces that have grease, soap scum or mineral build-up such as lime scale, explains DuPont. Glycolic acid is available in household cleansing products or in strengths up to 70 percent mixed with water.