What Is Glycolic Acid? We Asked a Skin-Care Expert to Explain

When it comes to skin-care ingredients, there's no denying things can get a little confusing. Although brands are becoming more transparent about what exactly is in products, trying to decipher which products are right for you can become a little hectic. Depending on your skin type, there are some ingredients that will work wonders for you and others you should probably stay away from.

For example, if you're looking for instant hydration, something with hyaluronic acid or glycerin is key. If you want something that brightens, vitamin C is probably your best bet. And if you've found yourself here, you're probably interested in learning more about glycolic acid. Just prepare to fall in love with its benefits after first use.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

This skin-care acid falls into the category of "alpha hydroxy acids," or AHAs, which are naturally derived acids typically found in sugarcane, sugar beets, and fruit. Because a molecule of glycolic acid is smaller than its AHA counterparts (including lactic, mandelic, and citric acids), its particles are better able to penetrate the skin and are considered to be more effective.

Glycolic's Acid Benefits: What Does Glycolic Acid Do?

"Glycolic acids are often used to treat acne scarring, skin discoloration, and signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles," Anita Sun, a medical esthetician and the founder of Dermovia, tells POPSUGAR. "It is also effective in treating skin conditions such as psoriasis, melasma, seborrheic keratosis, and keratosis pilaris." In other words, it's really ridiculously good at resurfacing the skin. But that's not all.

Sun adds: "Glycolic acid helps to boost collagen production and is effective in plumping the skin, supporting healthy skin tissue to remain firm and prevents wrinkles from forming. It's also effective in removing surface dead skin cells and removing oil build up in pores."

How to Use Glycolic Acid

By incorporating this ingredient into your skin-care routine, you'll notice a brighter and more even complexion — sometimes in as little as 24 hours. It's important to use the skin-care ingredient the right way. If you're just starting out, try using it every other day or every third day so your skin can build up a tolerance. Additionally, because glycolic acid exfoliates, pay close attention to what other ingredients you're combining it with. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to steer clear of combining glycolic acid with other chemical exfoliating ingredients or physical exfoliants.

Whenever you opt to use glycolic acid in your skin-care routine, it's important to follow up with moisturizer, which will help protect the skin barrier, as well as an SPF.

— Additional reporting by Renee Rodriguez