Glycolic acid may sound like something you shouldn't apply to your skin. But it's becoming an increasingly common ingredient as beauty shelves buckle under the weight of toners, serums, cleaners and at-home peels that all contain this potent acid.
A derivative of sugar cane, glycolic acid belongs to a family of skincare acids called Alpha Hydroxy Acids, or AHAs, which have become a byword for exfoliation and sped-up cell renewal. For some however, it's also the root cause of skin sensitisation and irritation.
So is it a case of misuse that's leaving us red faced? Or should be be steering clear of glycolic altogether? These two skin experts weigh in on the debate...
"Yes, we should avoid glycolic acid" - Dr Barbara Sturm, aesthetic doctor
"When people use harsh treatments like glycolic acid and acid peels they make your skin super waxy and it’s mistaken for glowiness. The shininess is basically raw skin as you're taking off healthy skin layers. It makes your skin vulnerable and damages its barrier function so it doesn't have any protection any more.
The skin is like a fortress and your protection tool so the skin barrier has to really be intact to keep stressors like UV light and pollution from entering the skin. Bacteria can also enter the skin if the barrier is not intact while water can leave, so we lose the moisture we want our skin to have.
My skincare philosophy focuses on keeping the skin barrier strong and about making your cells super healthy. So when it comes to exfoliation, I prefer to use enzymes as they are gentler at removing dead cells. The Enzyme Cleanser stimulates cell turnover but won't disrupt the skin's barrier function."
"No, used correctly glycolic acid can be a game changer" - Abigail James, celebrity facialist and UK Skin Expert for Philosophy
"Glycolic acid is well known for being a reliable surface exfoliant, dissolving skin cells to brighten and smooth the appearance of the skin. It can be really effective as part of a skincare routine and also aid in clearing the pathway for other actives to be better absorbed into the skin.
I am a huge fan of acids, although it does depend on your skin type and the strength and type of products used. For a normal skin type you might add in a weekly medium-strength at-home peel containing glycolic acid such as Philosophy’s Microdelivery Dream Peel. For a sensitive skin type, I’d recommend using this once a month. Thicker oily skin types are fine using a medium-strength glycolic product once a week or perhaps a daily cleanser followed by a quick swipe of glycolic toner.
The key is not to overuse acids. If they are in the cleanser, serum and mask that you are using on a daily basis it is highly likely this will be too much for the skin. That's when you could compromise the skin’s barrier."
How to fake tan like a pro without a streak in sight
Everything you need to know about how to fake tan—from prep to maintenance.
By Jess Beech •
10 of the best body exfoliators—from scrubs to mitts and acid peels
These body exfoliators will de-flake, smooth and buff your skin to perfection
By Fiona McKim •
Best braided hairstyles for women—20+ ideas from box braids to French plaits
Looking for braided hairstyles inspiration? Browse our edit for everything from box braids to fishtail plaits
By Emma North •
How to recreate Jenna Coleman's makeup in The Serpent
There's little about Jenna Coleman's makeup in The Serpent beauty we wouldn't want to recreate, from the kohl liner to the '70s fringe
By Fiona Embleton •
Glossy lips are back! This is how to get grown-up gloss right
No more fear of windy days: This season's glossy lips trend features softer, non-goopy textures perfect for a chic everyday look
By Emma North •
Transitioning to grey hair: how to make it as seamless as possible
Are you ready to ditch the dye and begin transitioning to grey hair for good?
By Sarah Cooper-White •
This Jo Malone dupe from Superdrug's Bloom range will save you £49
Superdrug’s Bloom range takes inspiration from Jo Malone’s classic scents—but at much lower prices
By Amy Hunt •
This Chanel No 5 dupe perfume comes with rave reviews and will save you up to £90
Save money and smell good with this Chanel No 5 dupe
By Aleesha Badkar •