Glycolic acid: the glow-boosting gamechanger your skin needs


Everyone wants the next big thing in skincare, but sometimes it’s the existing big thing that you might be missing. Take glycolic acid. The alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) has been relied on for decades for its exfoliating abilities, but you may not be aware how much this quiet achiever can do. It refines pores, targets acne, fades discolouration, and resurfaces your complexion, leaving it softer, smoother and infinitely better. By stimulating collagen, it also targets fine lines. All of which explains why it’s one of the popular search terms on this website.

The old-school acid has been having a resurgence of late. Unlike earlier glycolic products, which might have left users with flaking skin, the latest versions leave you looking radiant. As the smallest of the acids, glycolic dissolves the glue that connects dead skin cells and yields the most dramatic results. Its resurfacing properties make it ideal for prepping your skin to absorb other products too. “Peeling is a fantastic way to overhaul your skin in so many ways,” says Dr. Dennis Gross, the acclaimed New York dermatologist on a recent visit to MECCA HQ. “It restores radiancy, gets rid of dullness, works on pores, makes lines and wrinkles look better and clears your complexion.”

Recently, Dr. Gross debuted his newest peeling powerhouse. Professional Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel is a two-step product that jumpstarts your skin’s renewal process. The first step uses glycolic and other acids to resurface, while the second neutralises and balances with plant extracts. Used twice weekly, it can deliver a complexion revamp. “It’s meant for people who have had some exposure to peels, who want more results,” he continues, adding that the impetus came from discerning clients at his Manhattan clinic. “Glycolic is fantastic in its ability to peel with no down time, especially when used at a lower concentration and combined with other acids.”

Here are some other ways to embrace it.

Swipe it on daily with a pad

Glycolic acid, often derived from sugar cane, can help your skin reach a perma-glow sweet spot. The easiest way to ace your acid is the “wax on, wax off” approach made famous by Dr. Gross. His pre-soaked pads in the original and extra strength version have earned countless fans and appreciative testimonials. “Facial in a box!” wrote one MECCA enthusiast in a review. “My skin but 10 years younger,” observed another. The pads speed up the normal shedding process, improve skin texture and unclog pores in just a few minutes a day. “Cured my acne … love, love, love,” added a recent convert.

Try an overnight treatment

Refine and resurface your skin while you slumber. Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum uses a blend of AHAS and soothing plant extracts to gently lift away dead skin cells while you’re in REM mode. It has a pH level of 3.8, which is important. If the pH level of the acid is too low, it will sting. Too high, and it won’t be as effective. Similarly, a few precious drops of Omorovicza Acid Fix will remedy lacklustre complexions. Glow Recipe’s Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask is another nighttime rescue. It combines glycolic and lactic acid with amino-rich watermelon extract and moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid in a bouncy texture. If you’re using retinol in the evening, try subbing in a glycolic product on a different night.

READ MORE: The founders of Glow Recipe on the Korean skin care rituals we all should be doing.

Make time for a weekly 10-minute mask

If you’re commitment phobic about acids, experiment with a mask. Ren Clean Skincare Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask uses a trio of tropical acids—glycolic from pineapple, lactic acid from passionfruit and papain from papaya—to invigorate your skin. If you prefer detoxifying mud formulas, Glam Glow’s Supermud Mask addresses skin imperfections with a mix of six acids, activated charcoal and clay. Invested with a whopping 10% glycolic, Kat Burki’s Restorative Dual Acid Peel is an instant refresh for skin. Though it helps to reverse sun damage, follow with an SPF during the day.

READ MORE: Kat Burki’s cold-processed natural wonders.

Cleanse, tone and even moisturise

Exfoliating cleansers allow you to wash away oil, debris and dead skin cells in a cushiony lather. Dr. Dennis Gross uses a blend of acids in his Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel, which is suitable for all skin types. Another glycolic apostle is Kate Somerville, who uses the acid in her ExfoliKate Cleanser, and Exfolikate Glow Moisturizer. If you prefer your re-surfacer wrapped in a nourishing medley of hibiscus, grapefruit and rosewater, you will adore Chantecaille’s Bamboo and Hibiscus Exfoliating Cream. Meanwhile, Mario Badescu’s Glycolic Foaming Cleanser is recommended as a supplementary purifier. Use it one to three times a week when your skin needs a clean sweep. You can also use it to fix body breakouts. The brand also has a glycolic-fuelled toner to brighten and balance skin post-cleanse.

Unexpected uses in hair and tanning products

Did you know that glycolic can smooth and soften your hair? Living Proof Restore Treatment Mask employs the tiniest of acids for its ability to penetrate the hair shaft and render manes more manageable. An even more novel use of the mercurial ingredient is Isle of Paradise’s Over It Magic Self-Tan Eraser. This ingenious glycolic micellar water strips your tan down and enables you to start afresh. Mist, lather and wash away last week’s lingering bronze shade. It beats lemon juice.

READ MORE: Want healthier hair? It’s time for a scalp detox.


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