Glycolic Acid Guide - Skincare's Superstar Ingredient

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid - you’ll see this in skincare as AHA - and is derived from sugar cane. It’s just one of a large family of AHAs that also includes lactic acid (from milk) and citric acid (from….yep, citrus fruits).

It’s become a staple in skincare routines thanks to its ability to revitalise and renew the skin. But what sets glycolic acid apart, and how can you harness its benefits? In this guide, we'll explore the science behind glycolic acid, how to get the best from it and which products to start with.

Gylcolic Acid Skincare Ingredient Guide


Exfoliation Stations

Glycolic acid is a potent exfoliant with the smallest molecule size of all the AHAs, allowing it to penetrate deeply into the skin. It works by gently dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells, promoting their shedding and revealing fresher, radiant skin underneath.

Collagen Turbocharger

Beyond its exfoliating properties, glycolic acid also stimulates collagen production, leading to improvements in skin texture, firmness, and overall youthfulness over time. Our natural production of collagen falls from our 20s onwards, and glycolic acid can help to slow that process.

Better Skin Tone

The benefits of glycolic acid extend far beyond its exfoliating prowess. By effectively removing dead skin cells, glycolic acid unclogs pores and refines skin texture, resulting in a smoother, more even complexion.

Glycolic acid also helps to improve skin tone, in two different ways. Its brightening properties make it particularly effective in addressing hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and uneven skin tone This property also helps to repair skin that has been harmed by sun exposure, making it the key skincare ingredient in restoring sun damaged skin.

The compound’s ability to stimulate collagen synthesis helps diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging, promoting a more youthful, revitalised complexion.

How to Use Glycolic Acid for Skincare

Start Slow and Low

While glycolic acid offers numerous benefits, it's not without some risks to be aware of. Because of it’s exfoliating power it does expose sensitive skin, and too much too soon can result in temporary side effects such as redness, irritation, or peeling. This is especially common when first starting out or when using higher concentrations of glycolic acid.

To minimise the risk of irritation, begin with a lower concentration and apply a few times a week. Over time, and if no irritation is present, gradually increase the frequency as your skin’s tolerance develops.

Sun Sensitivity

Like other exfoliating acids, glycolic acid can increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun, making it essential to use sunscreen daily and limit sun exposure while using glycolic acid-containing products. Consider only using glycolic acid in your evening routine to reduce the risk of a bad reaction with solar radiation.

Combination Stations

Glycolic acid can be safely combined with other skincare ingredients, but it's essential to avoid using it alongside other exfoliants that may increase the risk of irritation, such as retinol or benzoyl peroxide.

Glycolic Acid and Pregnancy


Glycolic Acid and Pregnacy

Unlike ingredients like retinol, Glycolic acid is considered safe to use during pregnancy and while breast feeding. For more information see this article from Heathline on use during pregnancy and this story from on using while breastfeeding.

Time is the Master

Visible results may take several weeks to months to manifest, so as with all skincare patience and consistency are key.

Go Glycol!

In essence, glycolic acid stands as a skincare essential, offering a myriad of benefits for radiant, glowing skin. By understanding its mechanisms of action, unique advantages, and potential considerations, you can unlock the full potential of glycolic acid to reveal a complexion that radiates health and vitality. With dedication and a commitment to skincare excellence, you can illuminate your skin from within, one glycolic acid-infused step at a time.

Refresh Recommends:

  • A'Pieu Glycolic Acid Cream - If you're looking to get started with glycolic acid then look no further than this 3% concentration. It also contains salicylic acid to help unclog pores and smooth the skin, plus 30% birch tree extract to ensure moisture stays in while those impurities come out. 
  • A'Pieu Glycolic Acid Peeling Booster - This toner is another gentle exfoliant that features AHA, BHA and birch water. It promotes exfoliation and cell turnover to give your skin a full reset. 

Further Information


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About the Author

Priscilla Puga


Skincare fanatic and co-founder of Refresh Skincare. Follow the author on social media:


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