5 Glycolic Acid Benefits You Likely Didn’t Know

Written by: Rebecca Eaton



Time to read 10 min

From ageing to acne and just about everything in between, there’s a reason glycolic acid has found its place in the spotlight. This much-loved ingredient is one of our favourite secrets to youthful-looking skin, a more radiant complexion, and a smoother texture. 

With that said, if you’ve found yourself questioning how to use glycolic acid, who will benefit from its all-in-one goodness, and what on earth it is, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to find out all there is to know about safely adding glycolic acid skincare to your daily ritual to build a sustainable AM to PM skincare routine, and our favourite glycolic acid benefits you likely didn’t know.  

First things first, what is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is the smallest member of the alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) family. Derived from sugar cane, this game-changing ingredient is the most widely used AHA owing to its low-molecular weight, allowing it to penetrate the skin quickly and deeply to gently dissolve dead skin cells.  

Simply put, glycolic acid works in an exfoliative way to support skin cell turnover. In turn, this boosts collagen production and supports moisture retention — two critical factors in maintaining that youthful appearance and glow. 

From anti-aging, acne, and hyperpigmentation to ingrown hairs, exfoliation, skin brightening, skin cell turnover, and more, the benefits of glycolic acid are undeniable. With an abundance of benefits, you can generally find glycolic acid as a key player in a range of skincare products, including cleansers, toners, moisturisers, serums, gels, and peels.  

A lady squirting foam facial cleanser onto her hand

Glycolic acid housekeeping — what should you be aware of before using?

As a skincare ingredient, glycolic acid is undoubtedly the gold standard in the AHA family. While all offer unique benefits and powers, it’s impossible to ignore the sheer versatility and praise glycolic acid receives. However, with all skincare products, skin is unique; thus, there are essential factors to be aware of before jumping right in. Consider the following before sourcing the right glycolic acid skincare products:

  • Start slow — While glycolic acid benefits are undeniable, if you’re not used to its potent powers, you may experience a light stinging sensation, temporary redness, or burning. It’s important to note that these sensations are natural and are your body’s way of adapting to the effects. However, if symptoms worsen, we always recommend seeking medical advice to ensure it isn’t an allergy. 
  • Pair it with a quality sunscreen — Glycolic acid makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays. As such, be sure to pair this with a quality sunscreen to avoid inhibiting the anti-ageing properties… Just remember, sun damage is the number one ageing accelerator, so be sure to give your glycolic acid products their best chance at rewinding the clock.
  • Be aware of safe application and concentrations — Glycolic acid’s concentrations vary drastically, yet you should never exceed this during at-home application. For at-home products, glycolic acid is safe for topical use in concentrations of up to 10%, and up to 70% for in-clinic services performed by a dermatologist or health care professional. 
  • Be patient with the process — While glycolic acid is potent, like all good things, its magic takes time. Generally, glycolic acid exfoliators can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks to truly see their undeniable benefits. Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will your dream skin, meaning consistency and patience are key to quality skin health. 
  • Know what skin types it’s most beneficial for — Glycolic acid is suggested to be most beneficial for combination, dry, oily, and normal skin. Sensitive skin types may see benefits, however, it is likely to cause irritation to the skin. As such, those with sensitive skin may find more success opting for lactic acid. 
  • Be aware of what it plays well with — While glycolic acid is a team player who helps pave the way for other active ingredients to absorb more effectively and penetrate the skin more deeply, there are certain ingredients it simply should not be paired with. This includes Retinol, which may cause extreme irritation and dryness if layered with glycolic acid. To add both ingredients to your skincare regime, we recommend using them at different times of the day or even on different days of the week to get the most out of both. 
  • Seek professional advice first — As aforementioned, glycolic acid benefits are abundant, yet, like all skincare, it isn’t suitable for everyone. We highly recommend booking a skin consultation with our incredible team of therapists at Dr Tanya to ensure you’re investing in the right type, quality, and dosage. 

A close-up image of a lady’s blue eyes

5 glycolic acid benefits — and why your skin will thank you

1. It helps minimise the appearance of ageing

Our body’s natural collagen production begins to slow down and deplete as we age. While a completely natural process, collagen fibres play an important role in providing the skin with structure, hydration, and elasticity. What exactly does this mean? Without sufficient collagen production, we begin to see the early signs of ageing – additional fine lines, slightly drier skin, and a loss of elasticity. 

While we believe in the beauty of ageing and don’t feel it’s a skin concern that needs addressing, there are certainly ways to help slow down the clock…and according to several studies, glycolic acid is one of them. 

Known for its anti-ageing properties, one of the many glycolic acid benefits is its ability to help boost collagen stores and hydration, which can minimise the appearance of fine lines and lost elasticity. The cherry on top? Studies have also found that increasing collagen levels and hyaluronic acid can help treat photodamage in mature skin. 

Still need a little more convincing? A 2020 Wiley study into the effects of glycolic acid made the following conclusions:

  • It supports skin moisturisation by increasing levels of hyaluronic acid in the skin. 
  • It stimulates collagen production — the body’s primary structural protein that influences ageing. 
  • It supports skin repair and regeneration by boosting fibroblast and keratinocyte proliferation.  
  • It improves the structure and quality of skin elasticity. 

It’s important to note that glycolic acid will not remove fine lines or wrinkles. It will simply reduce their appearance, giving your skin a more youthful and smooth texture. 

The recap: Glycolic acid is clinically shown to improve the appearance of photodamaged skin, reduce fine lines, and smooth uneven skin texture. While its effectiveness will depend on the quality of the product you’re using, the science is in, and its impact is undeniable.  

2. It supports skin hydration 

It seems counterintuitive to lean on an acid when seeking hydration, right? Surprisingly, it’s one of our favourite glycolic acid benefits! 

Glycolic acid is a humectant that helps the skin preserve and retain moisture by binding water to skin cells. By attracting water molecules, it plays an important role in keeping your skin feeling nourished, plump, and hydrated — another key factor when it comes to looking fresh. It’s suggested to boost your skin’s moisture content, making it a great addition to your skincare routine for those who are tirelessly fighting the effects of dry and patchy skin. 

Humectants support skin hydration by drawing water from your second layer of skin, known as the dermis, to your top layer of skin, the epidermis. Drawing on water stores from deeper layers helps to improve moisture levels in your stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of your epidermis, where dry skin and dead cells are found. As such, it gives the appearance of plumper and more nourished-looking skin. Similarly, humectants also have the power to draw moisture from the air when humidity exceeds 70% to help hydrate your skin.  

The recap: Glycolic acid is a humectant that helps to attract water to the surface of the skin, helping to relieve the signs of flaky, dry, and dehydrated skin. To help seal the moisture in, be sure to use a quality moisturiser on top to ensure the goodness remains on your skin’s surface.

3. It’s beneficial for acne-prone skin

Several studies have found remarkable improvements in inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne when glycolic acid peels are used. 

According to Derm Collective, glycolic acid can help reduce acne in the following ways:

Studies have found strong antibacterial properties in glycolic acid that help to kill cutibacterium acnes (a precursor to acne). These antibacterial benefits are suggested to help treat and prevent inflammatory acne lesions.  

Owing to glycolic acid’s small molecular size, it can easily pass through the skin barrier and penetrate more deeply. This can help dissolve oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells, reducing the likelihood of black and whiteheads forming. 

Unlike many acne treatments on the market, glycolic acid doesn’t dry out the skin. As such, it minimises the chances of your skin reacting to the extreme dryness by producing excess oil… an unfortunate side effect that can exacerbate acne breakouts. 

At Dr Tanya, we believe expert advice is the key to incredible skin health. As such, we strongly advise against self-prescribing skincare, particularly if you have acne-prone skin. While glycolic acid benefits may include lessening the severity of acne, we always recommend getting a tailored treatment plan personalised to your skin. 

The recap: From helping to kill acne-inducing bacteria to dissolving unwanted oil and debris, several studies conclude that glycolic acid positively impacts inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne. However, we strongly recommend seeking a personalised treatment plan to ensure you receive the right dosage and type of glycolic acid for your unique skin needs. 

4. It helps minimise the appearance of sun damage

Another key factor that contributes to early signs of ageing and uneven skin tone is sun damage. As we age, the effects of sun damage become more noticeable, often displaying as dark spots, sunspots, wrinkles, and patchy and inconsistent skin tones. 

Yet, according to a 2018 study, glycolic acid is shown to help reduce the signs of photoaging. The cherry on top? An even more recent study in 2022 corroborated these findings, concluding that glycolic acid benefits sun-damaged skin and acts as an effective treatment.  

The recap: While certain studies have found glycolic acid to have impactful results in reducing the appearance of existing sun damage, it’s important to note that it certainly will not protect your skin from the harshness of UV light. In fact, with all exfoliants, your skin may become more susceptible to ultraviolet radiation. As such, be sure to always pair your glycolic acid products with good quality sunscreen for preventative measures to keep sun damage at bay. 

5. It’s an incredible exfoliant 

From brightening your complexion to preventing ingrown hairs, the never-ending glycolic acid benefits make this ingredient a must-have for anyone wanting the appearance of healthier, happier, and more nourished-looking skin. 

While it’s an extremely effective exfoliant, it’s important to note that research suggests it won’t strip your skin’s lipids — the healthy fatty acids that act as a skin barrier to keep moisture in and nasties out. What exactly does this mean? While it’s extremely effective at dissolving dead skin cells, it’s shown not to have any adverse effects on the functionality of your epidermal barrier. Although this will depend on the quality, strength, and type of glycolic acid you invest in. As such, it’s always best to consult a skincare therapist before purchasing. 

Need more glycolic acid benefits? It’s also shown to reduce ingrown hairs, commonly resulting from clogged hair follicles. Owing to glycolic acids’ exfoliating properties, it helps to keep pores open and unclogged, minimising the risk of ingrown hairs forming. It can also treat existing ingrown hairs by helping soften the dead skin cell bonds. Yet, it will have little benefit on ingrown hairs that have occurred due to hair removal practices (i.e., waxing, shaving, and plucking).

The recap: Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant with tiny molecules that penetrate deep into the skin’s surface. With this, it can break down bonds between dead skin cells, accelerating skin cell rejuvenation and allowing additional skin care products to work more effectively. The end result? Fresher, brighter, smoother, and softer-looking skin.

A face serum dropper resting on a flat surface

The experts’ recommendations 

At Dr Tanya, we pride ourselves on delivering a product and service offering we’re proud to put our name behind. Whether you’re new to skincare and seeking professional advice to help guide your journey to glowing skin, or you’re on the hunt for the right products to complete your skincare ritual, we’re here to help. 

We strongly believe that every person’s skin is unique, which means no two skincare solutions should be the same. As such, we recommend booking a skin consultation with our incredible therapists, where we’ll work with you to understand your skin concerns and requirements before creating a completely personalised treatment plan. 

If you’re already equipped with expert advice and are as excited by glycolic acid benefits as much as our team, here are our top product recommendations containing glycolic acid. 

Dr Tanya Miracle Cream Cleanser

Product type: cleanser

Our multi-functional Miracle Cream Cleanser is the perfect skincare staple, supporting your skin from morning to evening. This luxurious cream cleanser promotes skin hydration while delivering a dream combination of Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid and Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) to target fine lines and wrinkles and improve overall skin tone.

This formula contains 5% Glycolic Acid, meaning it’s a great option for beginners wanting to assess skin tolerance before diving into anything more intense. During the day, don’t forget to pair this incredible formula with your SPF to minimise sun damage. 

Dr Tanya Radiant Day Cream

Product type: moisturiser

Enjoy brighter and more hydrated-looking skin with our multi-action AHA essential — Dr Tanya’s Radiant Day Cream

This mild, pH-balanced day cream with Glycolic Acid (5%) and Lactic Acid (5%) works hard to support skin renewal while promoting supple, hydrated skin with the support of Vitamin B and Vitamin E. Be sure to apply your SPF during the day!