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What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid (also known as hydroxyacetic acid) has been a popular skincare ingredient for decades — and for good reason. It’s a super effective exfoliant with a number of benefits that all work in the service of gorgeous, glowing skin.

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs comprise a group of naturally occurring acids found in foods. Glycolic acid can be derived from sugary foods like sugarcane, sugar beets, and pineapple — other AHAs can be found in different types of food. Think milk (lactic acid), grapes (tartaric acid), and citric acid (citrus fruits).2

Glycolic acid is best known as a chemical exfoliant. As opposed to physical/mechanical exfoliants which remove dead skin cells and other impurities through friction — like a scrub. Chemical exfoliants (like AHAs and BHAs), on the other hand, do the work for you to gently dissolve dead skin cells.3 Glycolic acid’s superpower is its excellent ability to penetrate the skin. As the smallest alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), glycolic acid also has the lowest molecular weight. Its tiny structure makes it easy for glycolic acid to get a super effective exfoliator.4

When used as a chemical exfoliator, glycolic acid boasts many benefits for improving the overall appearance of the skin. Glycolic acid works not only as an exfoliator, getting rid of the rough appearance that impurities and dead skin cells can create, but it can also support your skin’s ability to produce collagen—one of the proteins that keep your skin looking young, healthy, and full.

Some of the benefits of glycolic acid include:
  • Improving the look of fine lines and wrinkles 5
  • Evening the look of the skin and minimizing the appearance of hyperpigmentations
  • Helping skin appear firmer, plumper, and smoother
  • Brightening the appearance of the skin for a more youthful glow
  • Enhancing skin texture
  • Helps skin feel softer

You can find glycolic acid in high-performing exfoliators like ALASTIN’s ReSURFACE Skin Polish. ReSURFACE Skin Polish works as a dual-action exfoliating polish, combining the powerful chemical exfoliation of glycolic acid with the gentle physical exfoliation of perlite (a naturally derived volcanic mineral), as well as powerful antioxidants and other nourishing ingredients.

In clinical studies, 100 percent of people reported improvement in skin dullness after one week of using ReSURFACE Skin Polish, while 94 percent reported improvement in the overall appearance of skin after only two weeks.6,7

ReSURFACE Skin Polish should be used directly after cleansing once or more a week as tolerated.

Glycolic acid is considered safe for most skin types — but people with very sensitive skin may experience some irritation.8 As with any product, it’s a good idea to do a patch test before applying to the full face.

Keep in mind that not all glycolic acid products are created the same. ReSURFACE Skin Polish is formulated to be effective-yet-gentle. In clinical trials, 94 percent of patients reported no skin dryness, redness or irritation after 2 weeks of use.9,10

Overall, glycolic acid is considered safe during pregnancy — but before you use a chemical exfoliant, it’s recommended to check with your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding to make sure the product is right for you.