Magic Molecules: Glycolic Acid


In this second Magic Molecules post I am going to tackle the science of glycolic acid as I’ve seen this cropping up in beauty products more and more lately. If you google ‘glycolic acid’ you will very quickly learn that it’s main use is in chemical peels as it can brighten the skin and reduce pigmention of aging skin and acne. This is all well and good but what is it doing in my beauty products? I don’t really want a full-on chemical peel at 23 thanks very much! Is this an ingredient that we should be concerned about?

The answer…not at all. The formulation used in physician-grade chemical peels have a pH as low as 0.6, that’s acidic enough to, well, cause your skin to peel off. Domestic-grade peels have a higher pH and other products such as cleansers and serums containing this magic molecule will be weaker again and have a less harsh effect, so no immediate cause for concern!

So how does this magic molecule work? Well, glycolic acid has been found to increase collagen production in the skin leading to a firmer texture and increased skin elasticity, great!. It can also brighten the appearance of skin which is often marketed as giving a ‘youthful glow’. This is because it reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis and weakens the binding of dead skin cells on the outermost layer. These dead skin cells can be exfoliated away revealing shiny new cells underneath to give an more youthful appearence. However it is important to wear SPF protection after using products containing glycolic acid as the new cells which are revealed are more prone to UV damage which causes skin to age, not the desired effect! Those with sensitive skin should also take care when using these products and should do a patch test first.

I’ve always been baffled by these ‘snail cream’ treatments that seem to be everywhere; turns out glycolic acid is one of the constituents of snail mucus so this could actually be of some benefit to your skin. Depends if you can stomach putting ‘snail mucus’ all over your face!

Got any favourite glycolic acid containing products? I’d love to hear your recommendations! Leave a comment 🙂



4 responses to “Magic Molecules: Glycolic Acid

  1. If you’re a reddit user, check out /r/SkincareAddiction for plenty of information regarding glycolic acid and products that contain it. I’ve personally used Alpha Hydrox Oil-Free Formula 10% Glycolic AHA, and while I’ve stopped using it for a bit while I use my acne medication, I really like how my skin felt after using it.


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