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Understanding Glycolic Acid and Skin Purging

Understanding Glycolic Acid and Skin Purging

by RickMarch 01, 2018

Let’s further discuss the role glycolic acid as a skin care ingredient and also what role it can play in the purging process.

Skin care products featuring active ingredients like glycolic acid (a type of Alpha Hydroxy Acid) can stimulate the skin’s renewal process while removing dead skin cells with many other proven benefits. But any (sudden) change, positive or otherwise, typically requires some kind of normal initial adjustment period.

What is It?

Glycolic acid is a fruit acid and can be found naturally occurring in plants like sugar canes, pineapples, and sugar beets.

It offers many benefits when applied to the skin in the right concentration and acidity (pH) levels and at the right time.

Skin care products containing glycolic acid are the most beneficial to the skin in low concentrations with the right acidity (pH) level and when combined with the right skin care process to enjoy its full benefits.

How It Works

But first, you should know that glycolic acid breaks down the top layer of the skin by dissolving sebum and other substances binding the cells together.

It’s able to easily penetrate the skin deeply. This makes it effective for combating fine lines, acne, blackheads, and oily skin.

Glycolic acid is also more effective in lower concentrations (anything over 10% is considered high and should be used with caution).

glycolic acid purging

Skin Care

On the skin, glycolic acid has rejuvenating and moisturizing properties. It’s a popular ingredient in many chemical peels due to being highly effective in skin treatment even for sensitive skin.

Glycolic acid can be effectively used during exfoliation for removing the outermost layer of dead skin cells from the complexion.

It often appears as an ingredient in facial washes and cleansers without irritation and known to treat skin conditions like melasma, psoriasis, and seborrheic keratosis. However, in these applications where glycolic acid is washed away, there’s really not enough time for the skin to gently exfoliate over time for any full benefit.

It can also be found in products used to treat scarring, skin discoloration, aging, and wrinkles.

The best skin care application of the glycolic is to apply the product containing it formulated at the right acidic (pH) level that can be gentle enough to be tolerated by the skin but yet powerful enough to help the skin accelerate the skin renewal process.


Glycolic acid in your skin care products may accelerate whatever pimples and other skin maladies were already working under the surface of your skin and quicken their appearance on the surface of the skin by speeding up the entire cycle dramatically. It also boosts collagen production.

What makes glycolic acid most useful even compared to lactic or salicylic acid and Retinol is its size. Glycolic has the smallest molecule of all the acids and that makes it easier to get into the skin.

Glycolic application should also ideally applied at night so its effects can work together with your skin’s natural exfoliation and renewal process when you’re sleeping. This application also avoids possible harmful exposure to the sun while your skin undergoes an accelerated exfoliation process with the aid of glycolic acid.

Take notice of glycolic acid and any past reactions or adjustment you may have had to new products or ingredients when introduced to your skin and maybe test or limit its use to let your skin more slowly adjust.

Purging Process

Known as somewhat of an “adjustment period”, key ingredients in new skin care products used can temporarily throw off the skin’s natural balance by accelerating any skin issues you may already be experiencing (aka “purging”)  before adjusting and working properly as intended.

You should always be careful and know what you’re putting into and on your body. Make note if your skin care products contain active ingredients like glycolic acid and what effects they may temporarily have before treating your desired needs. If you’re experiencing signs of purging and using new products containing these kind of ingredients, it’s likely your body adjusting normally.

You shouldn’t be afraid of purging as it’s not your body rejecting or having a bad reaction to skin care just accelerating what’s already happening.

Your skin may need to get used to glycolic acid. A percentage of it that’s too high in a product can cause redness or flakiness.

So while glycolic acid may lead to the unwanted purging of the skin, it’s a very helpful ingredient full of many valuable properties likely to aid in your overall skin health when used in the proper routine and products.

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