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How to Use Glycolic Acid in Ways That Don’t Damage Your Skin

How to use Glycolic Acid

If you’re looking to take your skin-care routine up a notch, then it’s probably wise that you have a handle on how to use glycolic acid the right way.

Why? Because if you use this multi-purpose, “miracle beauty ingredient” the wrong way, you’ll damage your skin’s sensitive acid mantle.

No joke.


Acid Mantle…Huh?

If you’re unfamiliar, every one of us has a delicate acid mantle that acts as a protective barrier – it’s what keeps our skin hydrated, resistant to damaging bacteria, while also maintaining pH levels.

And by over-exfoliating with acid ingredients like glycolic acid, or simply selecting way too high pH level products, you’ll be doing your acid mantle a disservice – where on the extreme end can be really difficult to undo.

Does itching, burning, more consistent breakouts, and being more prone to sunburn sound fun? Not one bit.

Yup, yup. But with such scary consequences, you’re probably thinking why you should learn how to use glycolic acid in the first place.

If you are, here’s a thorough article detailing the benefits of glycolic acid for skincare.

Also, it’s a good thing they can all be easily achieved, not to mention its misuse easily avoided.

So to avoid a skin care catastrophe and to solve your most stubborn acne issues, here’s how to use glycolic acid the right way.

[Related Article: How to Make a Natural Chemical Peel at Home for Smoother Skin in 5 Minutes]

how to use glycolic acid steps
(Studio Firma on Stocksy)

How to use Glycolic Acid in Your Skincare Routine

Step #1: Use a 10% Concentration or Less

Find a product that has a lower percentage (less than 10%) of glycolic acid – this will be listed on the product’s label or on their website. Start off with a mild concentration for your first time to monitor how your skin reacts.

Step #2: Only Use Every Other Day

Start using it once every other day. It’s a very effective acne treatment but can also easily irritate your skin if you use too much. Do not use more frequently than instructed!

Step #3: Use an Acid That Will Address Your Concerns

You don’t necessarily need both an AHA and BHA, but you will benefit from glycolic acid if you’re worried about acne, ingrown hairs, aging, skin texture, breakouts and a host of other issues.

Step #4: Use Glycolic Acid at Night

Applying GA in the evening will give your skin time to recover overnight. Rain or shine, ensure you wear sunscreen every single day – hopefully, you’ve been doing this already. But now that you’re using an acid, you’ll need to even more!

Step #5: Carefully Watch How Your Skin Reacts Every Day

Pay attention if you see any of the following: excessive dryness or flaking, irritation, other products (moisturizers, cleansers, even water) that were fine before but are suddenly feeling like they’re burning on your skin.

Step #6: Use After Cleansing and Toning

After your double-cleanse and toner, your face is prepped and clean, ready for your GA. Don’t use an acid if you notice cold sores or open cuts on your skin – let them heal first.

Step #7: Use an Occlusive Moisturizer

You want to stop GA from getting to other parts of your face where it’s not needed. Apply an occlusive moisturizer like Vaseline to ensure this doesn’t happen. You can place it around your eyes, mouth and nostrils to keep GA where it’s supposed to be. Using it will also prevent moisture loss.

An alternative moisturizer you can use is of the humectant variety – these work by drawing in moisture from the environment. However, they pale in comparison when it comes to retaining. It’s your pick!

Step #8: Apply Gently With a Cotton Pad

Apply your GA solution with a cotton pad or swab using minimal amounts, so that nothing is dripping off. Don’t get it in your eyes, the corners of your nose or on your lips as they’re sensitive areas, instead, concentrate on applying it gently on relevant areas.

Step #9: Apply SPF Every Morning

We can’t stress this enough. GAs increase photosensitivity, meaning you need to apply sunscreen each and every day because you’ll be even more prone to getting sunburnt.

We’ve got the steps covered, so let’s take a glance over some fundamental do’s and don’ts.

how to use glycolic acid dos and donts
(Photo from Getty Images/HoxtonSam Edwards)


Do’s and Don’ts of How to Use Glycolic Acid

Do: Start with a product containing around 5 – 8% of GA.

Don’t: Ignore signs of skin changes! The moment the acid appears to be triggering damage or irritation, then out it goes. What are the signs of over-exfoliating? Itching, burning, cystic eruptions, increased oil production, puffiness, breakouts.

Do: If all is going well, then after a 3 or 4 weeks you can increase the frequency.

Don’t: Don’t use both an AHA and a BHA product at the same time if it’s your first time using them.

Do: Consult with a skin-expert for a specific use!


How to Use Glycolic Acid Explained

Just like every other skin care treatment, consistency is key when using glycolic acid products.

Are you excited? The effects start showing in 2-3 weeks, and an overall skin improvement takes about 6-8 months – this could be the next step towards healthy, radiant and smooth-textured skin.

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