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Glycolic Acid Skincare – How to Exfoliate at Home

Ep 74: How to Incorporate Glycolic Acid Into Your Skincare Routine
Glycolic Acid Skincare Explained by Dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin

Everyone wants to have radiant, glowing skin. As one of the most popular active ingredients used in chemical peels at the dermatologist’s office and also incorporated in skincare, glycolic acid truly deserves its reputation as a star exfoliator. How does it work? Do we need to exfoliate our skin at all? This week’s podcast is a masterclass on glycolic acid, the star ingredient of the brand new Glycolic Bright Series by L’Oréal Paris.

Why is microscopic exfoliation preferred over physical methods of exfoliation? As the key alpha hydroxy acid used in skincare, glycolic acid has specific benefits such as being the smallest molecular type of all other hydroxy acids. It is able to deeply penetrate the superficial layer of skin. Learn this and more in this week’s episode of Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty with me, Dr. Teo Wan Lin.

What is glycolic acid?

This week’s podcast is all about why you should incorporate chemical peel acids into your skincare regimen. What are the types of acids available in skincare? The commonest chemical peel acid is glycolic acid, which is an alpha hydroxy acid. There are also beta-hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid. A newer type of acid is PHA which stands for polyhydroxy acid. These three acids have unique functions. Today, we’re going to zoom in on the function of glycolic acid.I will also be including my top tips on safely and effectively introducing glycolic acid into your skincare regimen.

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that is utilized in chemical peels. A chemical peel essentially results in microscopic exfoliation of the tomost layer of your skin, known as the stratum corneum. This results in the old skin cells being sloughed off, revealing more radiant skin underneath.

Glycolic acid is one of the key alpha hydroxy acids in skincare primarily because it has specific benefits. For one, it is the smallest molecular type of all alpha hydroxy acids. Glycolic acid is hence able to deeply penetrate the superficial layer of skin known as the stratum corneum. It works by breaking bonds between the corneocytes, also known as superficial skin cells. This results in a peeling effect that is not visible to the naked eye but is essentially microscopic exfoliation.

Who should use glycolic acid in their skincare regimen?

Individuals who have combination to oily skin types will benefit the most from incorporating glycolic acid in their skincare regimen. This is because of the astringent effect glycolic acid has on skin. The peeling effect also reduces the risk of acne flares, especially in the formation of comedones and micro comedones, the precursors of acne. In addition, acne scars and other types of hyperpigmentation associated with photoaging will improve with glycolic acid peels.

Who should not use glycolic acid?

Individuals who have eczema or active ongoing skin problems, and are consulting a dermatologist should avoid glycolic acid-containing products in their skincare regimen, and check with a dermatologist prior to using that.

Why is it important for us to exfoliate the skin?

For two main reasons. Firstly, as we grow older, our skin cells renew at a slower rate. This means that there is increase in retention of dead skin cells which can increase skin dullness. This can also result in skin cell processes not functioning optimally. Individuals who have oily skin, especially those who suffer from acne, will benefit from a glycolic acid containing product. This is because glycolic acid helps to reduce the dead skin cells present on the surface of the skin, which eventually drives comedone and microcomedone formation.

It is also important to appreciate that hyperpigmentation, caused by post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, is a form of scarring. Scars can lighten with glycolic acid. This is because it also triggers increased collagen formation. This means scars heal faster, and the tissue in the dermis responsible for skin elasticity is regenerated, giving — which gives rise to youthful looking skin.

How do dermatologists use glycolic acid?

Traditionally, glycolic acid is incorporated in chemical peels, and the peels are performed in an in-office setting as opposed to at home. In Singapore, only medical practices can be in possession of chemical peels. However, over the counter skincare can incorporate chemical peel acids in much lower concentrations. Office-grade chemical peels are usually superficial chemical peels. This means that the acid targets the topmost layer of skin cells. In Singapore, it is not common to do medium or deeper peels, because of the risk of hyperpigmentation side effects in Asian skin. This type of side effect is known as post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is why you should have your peel performed by a board-certified dermatologist.

In Singapore, we also deal with a tropical climate all year round which results in increased photosensitivity and hyperpigmentation side effects associated with chemical peels.

In the dermatologist’s office, we usually neutralize peels after a set period of time. How these acids work is by skin contact, in which duration also plays an important role.

Glycolic acid skincare
@drteowanlin New podcast episode for @lorealparis up on @spotify #beautypodcast #dermatologist #dermatologistoftiktok #docsoftiktok #tiktoksg #tiktokbeauty #beautytoks #beautytok #booktok ♬ original sound – Dr. Teo Wan Lin

Over the counter skincare that contains chemical peeling active ingredients is actually a fairly recent trend that can be helpful for certain types of skin concerns, including acne and skin aging. Cosmetic companies are able to incorporate these at low levels which are non irritating and have a beneficial effect. While it is important to look for the active ingredients in skincare, skin absorption is also a very important topic. So whatever you apply on your skin is only as effective as how well your skin absorbs it.

The beauty of chemical peeling agents in skincare, such as glycolic acid, is that they can enhance both the absorption of other active ingredients such as antioxidants, and also have a direct benefit on the skin. This means you will have the best chance of treating specifically aging concerns such as hyperpigmentation. For acne prone skin, there is a dual function effect of treating both acne and scars. For aging skin, glycolic acid also stimulates collagen production.

How does glycolic acid in skincare work?

The L’Oreal Paris glycolic bright skincare line incorporates 1.0% glycolic acid. This is a safe concentration for general use. The glycolic bright instant glowing face serum effectively targets hyperpigmentation such as dark spots & acne marks in three main ways. Firstly, with the glycolic acid itself, which increases cell turnover, absorption of active ingredients, as well as lightening superficial hyperpigmentation. Glycolic acid breaks down the top layer of skin cells to enhance absorption, which allows the skin to fully absorb the other active ingredients such as antioxidants. This results in direct activity at the level of the dermis where increased collagen synthesis can occur. Antioxidants also fight DNA damage.

Glycolic acid skincare - L'Oréal Paris glycolic bright range
Photo: L’Oréal Paris

The glycolic bright instant glowing face serum also contains niacinamide and Symwhite®. Symwhite® is an antioxidant also known as Phenylethyl Resorcinol. It is developed from Scotch pine bark. Symwhite® targets skin discoloration and uneven skin tone. It also works as an antioxidant which means that it protects against the oxidative stress caused by free radicals.

How to use glycolic acid skincare

If you are new to glycolic acid, it is important to follow these recommendations in order to safely and effectively start using this active ingredient. The concentrations of glycolic acid vary from product to product. Chemical peels performed in dermatologists’ offices vary usually from 15% to 40% glycolic acid concentrations. This, however, is not allowed in over the counter cosmetic preparations because these high concentrations have to be neutralized and performed under medical supervision. A 1.0% glycolic acid concentration, for example in the L’Oréal Paris Glycolic bright range, is gentle enough for daily home use. The formulation also contains moisturising ingredients that will minimize the risk of skin irritation.

Dermatologist tips for using glycolic acid

Finally, it is critical to observe the rule of sun protection when you use a glycolic acid product in your skincare routine. This is because, like all chemical peel acids, it can cause sun sensitivity also known as photosensitivity. I recommend avoiding the sun when it is most intense such as from 10am to 4pm when you are living in the tropics, as well as using medical grade SPF 50+ broad spectrum sunscreen.

Also, do not use glycolic acid products together with retinols or retinoids without the supervision of a dermatologist. The formulation of your glycolic acid product is also very important. A well-formulated glycolic acid skincare has additional moisturizing active ingredients, as well as antioxidants that counteract any skin irritation, hence maximizing the benefits of the product. Incorporation of antioxidants can increase the efficacy of the skincare product.

I hope you have enjoyed this in depth discussion on the science behind glycolic acid peel. If you have been considering incorporating this ingredient in your skincare regimen, I hope you’ve found my tips helpful!

This podcast episode is sponsored by L’Oréal Paris Singapore as a joint collaboration to create scientific educational content relevant to skincare and dermatology. Images produced as part of editorial collaboration consistent with site policy.

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