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5 Questions About Glycolic Acid - Answered

Glycolic acid has been a skincare rockstar and a beloved ingredient in professional facial products for decades because it effortlessly supports natural cell turnover and helps other skincare ingredients work better. But even though it's one of the most popular topical skincare ingredients, it's still surrounded by mystery and a lot of misinformation.

Master esthetician and Sanitas Sr. Vice President of Products & Services, Krista Eichten, weighs in on some common questions about glycolic acid and explains how to get maximum benefits from this skincare staple.



Why does glycolic acid dry my skin out and make it all flaky?


OK, we hear this one a lot. The first thing to consider is that not all glycolic formulas are created equal. There is a world of difference between a buffered AHA and an unbuffered AHA, which is critical when it comes to minimizing irritation and sensitivity.

For example, combining glycolic acid with amino acids such as glycine and arginine forms complexes that prolong the release of free acid, which in turn, helps reduce irritation and extends exfoliating benefits.

In addition, adding a powerful humectant, such as sodium PCA, helps bind moisture to skin cells and protects the acid mantle, reducing irritation and helping to increase hydration. This is how we like to formulate with glycolic acid, which makes it much less likely to dry out or irritate skin

The bottom line? Don’t give up yet. What your flaky, dry skin might need most is as simple as a correctly designed formula that delivers glycolic acid’s benefits with minimal unwanted side effects.

Frequency is also a common culprit. If you’re experiencing redness and irritation, it might be time to step back and reevaluate your program. The skin needs time to respond and rebuild post-stimulation. Think of this as an evolving process and check in with your skin regularly. Light shedding and pinkness means you’re on track. Excessively flaking, red skin and sensitivities means it’s time to slow your roll and give your skin a break.


Isn’t glycolic acid just for aging skin?


Absolutely not! Glycolic acid can be a powerful part of a skincare program that helps support skin even before it starts showing visible signs of aging. Collagen and elastin are an integral part of the support structure of the skin and determine how firm and smooth it appears. Since robust production of these important connective tissues begins to slow in your early 30s, using AHAs sooner rather than later can help to proactively support the structure of your skin. Glycolic acid is also featured prominently in uneven skin tone products because it can help fade the appearance of dark spots and restore skin radiance. You can begin incorporating glycolic acid now in a variety of forms, including our Active Body Wash and our Brightening Peel Pads, both of which rely on this AHA to exfoliate, brighten and clarify. 


How often should I be using glycolics?


Every other day, and we’ll tell you why.

Glycolic acid needs to be used mindfully in conjunction with nourishing ingredients such as vitamin C and hyaluronic acid. The goal with AHAs is to push the skin to become stronger but also allow it to fully recover and rebuild. What you use between treatments is just as important as the treatment itself.

And while we are talking about when and how often, let's also mention a non-negotiable. When using any type of AHA, you must use a full spectrum sun block to protect your brand new, freshly exfoliated and emerging skin cells from environmental damage such as pollution and UV rays. This means every day, year round, no matter how much time you think you actually spend in the sun. Those UVA rays are going to hunt you down and find you so make sure you are safeguarding and protecting your skin at all times.


How do I use glycolic acid with other active ingredients?


This can get a little deep depending on how many other actives are part of your program, but let’s take a look at a few possible scenarios. We’ll walk you through it.


I’ve been using AHAs for a while. How do I know it’s time to step up my game and go for a stronger formulation?


Pretty much the same way you know when it’s time to add more weight to your bicep curls, extend your runs or hold your plank longer. If you are no longer seeing results from the same routine, it’s time to take it to the next level. Ramping up your AHA use through progressive formulations is one of the cornerstones of our ingredient philosophy which is why we offer our GlycoSolutions in both 5% and 10% strengths.

Whether you're experiencing professional facial products in a treatment room or trying out new age defying or uneven skin tone products at home, you're probably already crossing paths with glycolic acid. But if you want to take your skincare to the next level, we suggest incorporating this powerful ingredient into your weekly routine with our GlycoSolution formulas or our Glycolic Citrus Cleanser so you can give you skin a regular dose of this skincare superstar.


Reviewed by Alexis Mayne

Love what’s in our bottles? Alexis is a big part of the team that makes it happen. For more than 10 years, she’s been instrumental in formulating and producing the Sanitas Skincare you love. Her areas of expertise include the science of skin, finding active ingredients that get results and connecting with the purest and most responsible ingredient suppliers. She also works closely with our Boulder-based manufacturing team to make sure our products are effective, safe and consistent each and every time.