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How to Incorporate Glycolic Acid Into Your Skincare Routine

If you’re looking to get brighter, smoother skin, but can’t make a trip to the spa, try this potent glycolic acid.

Whether you use it in a wash-off mask or apply it as part of your nighttime skincare routine, glycolic acid is beneficial for many different skin types and concerns. Read on to discover how to incorporate glycolic acid into your skincare routine.

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA). The word acid might scare you, but glycolic acid usually comes in lower concentrations for at-home use. It works as an exfoliant to turn over dead skin cells and reveal new skin cells.

It’s also one of the smallest AHAs, meaning that it can penetrate deeply to give you the best results. And it’s water-soluble, so you can “remove” it by rinsing your face with water.

How Should I Incorporate Glycolic Acid into my Skincare Routine?

As Part of Your Nighttime Routine

Glycolic acid should always be applied in the evening, as it makes your skin sensitive to sunlight. Applying it at night gives ample time for it to do its magic without a higher risk or damaging your skin in the sun. But you should still always apply an SPF moisturizer in the morning. 

There are three ways glycolic acid can be used in a skincare routine: as a face wash, as a toner, and as a mask. You should decide between using glycolic acid as a wash or as a toner every day, because they both have lower concentrations that are meant for daily use, then add a glycolic acid mask weekly. This will give you the full benefits of the acid while being safe for your skin. 

As a Face Wash

Face wash with glycolic acid has a low concentration of acid (usually 8–10% or less) so it’s safe to use nightly. Glycolic acid face washes can also include salicylic acid, making it great for acne prone skin.

If used as a wash, glycolic acid is step 1 in your nightly skin care routine.

As a Toner

When glycolic acid is used in a toner, you can use it right after your nightly cleanser. In toner products, the glycolic acid is found in smaller amounts (concentration of 8–10%) compared to a mask, so it’s safe to use everyday.

If used as a toner, glycolic acid is step 2 in your nightly skin care routine.

As a Mask

Masks have a much higher concentration of glycolic acid, some up to 30%, so these should only be used weekly. A great benefit of a glycolic acid mask is it helps your other skincare products absorb better, so you should use a glycolic acid mask as the first step in a nighttime routine, then skip any glycolic acid toner if you have used a glycolic acid mask. 

If used as a mask, glycolic acid is step 1 in your routine and should only be done once a week.

Can Glycolic Acid Be Combined with Retinol or Other Acids?

The answer: depends on your tolerance. If you’re already using a retinol, incorporating a glycolic acid into your routine in addition might be too much. If your skin took a long time to adjust to the retinol, consider switching each day between retinol and an acid, instead of using both every day. If your skin can tolerate it, you can use a lactic acid at night as well, but if your skin starts to peel, then cut back to one acid per day. Peeling of the skin is an indication you’re using too many acids.

Which Products Do We Suggest?

As a Face Wash

  • Thom Elzner Complexion Treatment Pads
    • We recommend this product because it’s our sister company, so we have seen our products in action throughout our spas. The best thing about these pads is they include both glycolic and salicylic acid so you don’t have to worry about buying two different products.

As a Toner

  • Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
    • We recommend this toner from The Ordinary because it’s affordable—less than $9!—without sacrificing quality. The Ordinary has great reviews and a loyal fan base. 

As a Mask

  • Caudalie’s Glycolic Peel Mask
    • We recommend this peel because, like all Caudalie products, it’s free from parabens, phenoxyethanol, phthalates, mineral oils, and animal-derived ingredients

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