What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an ingredient derived from sugar cane that does a number of beneficial things for the skin. Glycolic acid is a commonly used alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). Alpha hydroxy acids are the name of a group of synthetic versions of naturally occurring, non-toxic fruit acids used in many skin-rejuvenating products.
So what exactly does glycolic acid do? One word: exfoliation. When you use an AHA, you help remove the dead cells on the surface of your skin. As a result, the dead skin cells are no longer able to mix with the oils (aka “sebum”) in your skin and clog your pores. Glycolic acid speeds up this helpful process and keeps skin healthy. And when your skin is healthy it’s better at fighting off breakouts. Think of glycolic acid as a super power booster for one of the body’s most important acne-fighting functions.

How does Glycolic Acid Work?

When applied to the skin, acne products containing glycolic acid weaken the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together. Once glycolic acid loosens and removes this top layer of old cells, the healthy, living cells beneath the surface are revealed, new cell growth is encouraged and your skin looks and feels smoother.

In a nutshell, by eliminating the buildup of oils and dead skin cells, glycolic acid ensures the pores are less likely to become clogged and acne breakouts are less likely to occur.

The Benefits of Using Glycolic Acid

The benefits of glycolic acid can be quite remarkable because as it boosts your skin’s natural exfoliating process it also helps your skin retain moisture. This is important because when acne-prone skin gets too dry the body will overproduce oil to compensate. As mentioned above, more oil means a more fertile environment for new acne breakouts. Glycolic acid’s extra moisture boost is also a nice counterbalance to the dryness that can sometimes come from using benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, two ingredients often found in acne treatments.

Another added benefit of using glycolic acid products on acne-prone skin is that it can help reduce the appearance of marks and dark spots left behind by acne. Glycolic acid may also help smooth fine lines and surface wrinkles, as it helps to keep the skin soft, supple and vibrant-looking.

Risks and Warnings

All alpha hydroxy acids can cause mild irritation on very sensitive skin, but in concentrations less than 10% (what you’ll find in most acne medications), most people use them without issues.
Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen any time you go outside, but it is particularly important if you are using a glycolic acid product for acne because it can make your skin extra-sensitive to sunlight.

Proactiv Products with Glycolic Acid

Given its potent exfoliating abilities, it should come as no surprise that glycolic acid is one of the anti-acne ingredients in both Proactiv+® 3-Step System and Proactiv® Solution 3-Step System.

Other Proactiv acne products with glycolic acid include:
  • Proactiv+ Skin Smoothing Exfoliator: Step 1 of the Proactiv+ 3-Step System, this creamy, cushiony cleanser is formulated with micro-crystal benzoyl perozide to clear up acne blemishes and help new ones from forming. It also contains tiny exfoliating beads and glycolic acid which help to gently resurface the skin to reveal a smoother, softer-looking complexion. 
  • Mark Correcting Pads: Each convenient, single-use pad helps remove dead skin cells and exfoliate away rough, dull layers, revealing the new, smoother skin below. The pads are designed to resurface the skin with exxfoliating glycolic acid, helping to fade the look of post-acne marks and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores.  
  • Re-Texturizing Toner: This unique formula helps remove dead skin cells and decongest pores to promote healthy cell turnover and includes pore-purifying ingredients like glycolic acid and salicylic acid to help unclog pores. 
  • Clear Zone Body Pads: Our Clear Zone Body Pads contain the time-proven acne effectiveness of salicylic acid with the skin-enhancing properties of glycolic acid. Specially formulated for the treatment of oily skin, our dual, textured 3″ pads help lift away dirt build-up off the pores. 
  • Proactiv Revitalizing Toner: Step 2 of the Proactiv Solution 3-Step System, this botanical-rich, alcohol-free toner helps to keep pores from clogging by removing excess surface oil and dead skin cells. It features our exclusive alpha hydroxy (AHA) formulation, including glycolic acid, to gently exfdoliate layers of dead cells, revealing vital skin underneath

Glycolic Acid: The Bottom Line

While salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide may be the two most recognized acne-fighting ingredients, glycolic acid ranks right beside them in terms of importance for treating acne-prone skin. It’s a super-exfoliator that gets rid of dead skin cells so they can’t clog your pores. In addition, the hydration and healing qualities of glycolic acid help with the appearance of post-acne marks and discoloration and keep your skin smooth, resilient and healthy-looking.