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Is Glycolic Acid Good For Acne?

February 10, 2021

glycolic acid for acne

If you're new to skincare, or been around skincare for a while you may have noticed the ingredient glycolic acid seen in a lot of skincare products, especially those targeted with acne.  What makesglycolic acid a well-known ingredient for acne prone skin? 

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid that's derived from sugarcane.

Here we explain how glycolic acid can help clear up acne, and whether it is right for you.

Benefits of Glycolic Acid on Acne

Glycolic Acid is a alpha hydroxy acid, meaning it dissolves the proteins and sebum that bind individual skin cells together.  This type of acid molecule is minuscule in size, so it's able to penetrate in between every pore on the skin to loosen things up and speed up the skin renewal process. 

This process means that skin can shed off the uppermost damaged layers of skin faster, leading to faster recovery of hyperpigmented spots.  

This process also gently exfoliates the uppermost layer of skin to prevent the occurrence of blocked pores to prevent and treat acne breakouts. 

Glycolic acid also has antibacterial properties and can help strengthen the collagen in skin which helps fight acne as well as preventing acne scars. 


There are many products to choose from that contain glycolic acid in the form of cleansers, toners, masks, and even leave on treatments.

We recommend the Banish Pumpkin Enzyme Masque made with 10% glycolic acid, and it contains pumpkin enzymes which are a natural AHA. It's made with natural ingredients and contains extra antioxidants and vitamin e to help skin stay renewed and hydrated. 

  1. Start small– A gentle formula can work better in the long run especially if you have acne prone skin.  Glycolic acid can have a slight sting to it, but it should never feel painful.  Inflammation to the skin can lead to a damaged skin barrier and increase acne, so starting off small is best. 
  2. Follow the Instructions and use your judgement. Some products will be okay for more frequent use, but for the most part glycolic acid treatments are to be used 2-3 times a week. Check the instructions of your product and follow it, but reduce frequency if you notice dryness, excessive stinging, or increased redness. 
  3. Be consistent – Acids can cause a purging period for acne prone skin. Stay the course and try the product out for at least a full month before determining if it is right for you since a full skin cycle takes about 30 days, and longer as we age.
  4. Always wear sunscreen – Glycolic acid makes our skin susceptible to sun damage. Don’t forget to put on some sunscreen, even the days after you use products with glycolic acid. In fact, it's best to just use sunscreen everyday. 

Side Effects

Glycolic acid can cause peeling or irritation on skin if there is overuse, and it is not a suitable ingredient to use used in conjuction with other high irritation ingredients such as retinol.   High concentrations of gycolic acids are more likely to cause side effects.  

Glycolic acid can also lead to purging because of the exfoliation and faster skin turnaround.  However, the purging period should only be temporary and last no more than a month with proper use. 

Limitations of Glycolic Acid On Acne Prone Skin

Glycolic acid can be used as long as your skin can tolerate it.

A highly concentrated glycolic acid can possibly irritate a highly sensitive skin and can trigger further inflammation. If you have sensitized skin from doing a skin procedure, or are using strong prescription strength acne treatments, this ingredient may not be for you until your skin recovers.  Some people with rosacea may find that glycolic acid is not for them either.

Overall, glycolic acid is a great ingredient for acne and can help most people in clearing up and minimizing their acne and even acne scars.  In a nutshell, start off with a gentle concentration of glycolic acid, follow all instructions, and wear sunscreen each day.



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