If you have dark spots that’s caused by hyperpigmentation, you may have tried a few different remedies already. Most people have heard of hydroquinone, but have you ever heard of glycolic acid? Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant that can be used to lighten skin and treat skin blemishes.
If you have a darker skin tone, you may be wondering if glycolic acid is safe for you. The potentially irritating nature of glycolic acid makes it not the best choice for those with sensitive skin, but there are ways to use it safely for skin lightening and address hyperpigmentation.
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Let us walk you through the different questions you may have on glycolic acid to help you lighten your skin. Before we dive in, these are our recommended products that we will go into more detail later.
What is glycolic acid?
Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that comes from sugar cane. It’s a lactic acid derivative, which means that it’s produced by animal cells. It’s one of the most effective exfoliants, which means that it can help with the appearance of pores, acne, and other skin blemishes.
There are actualy several different types of AHAs. They differ mainly in the size of their chemical molecules. Glycolic acid is one of the smallest AHAs, with a smaller molecule size than other AHAs (like lactic acid). Smaller molecules penetrate the skin deeply and stimulate collagen synthesis, creating a firming action that prevents wrinkles and fine lines.
Glycolic acid is also great for removing dead skin cells and promoting cell turnover. This allows it to be used to treat hyperpigmentation. It’s also generally great for use on sensitive skin because it doesn’t have the same potentially irritating effect on the skin as some of the other exfoliants.
What is hyperpigmentation?
If you’re not familiar with hyperpigmentation, it’s basically an area of the skin that is darker than the surrounding skin. It can occur for a number of reasons, including getting a lot of sun exposure and from trauma.
It can affect any part of the body, and it’s important to know that it’s not the same thing as a birthmark, which is a mark that a person is born with.
The most common hyperpigmentation issue that people experience is a condition known as melasma. Melasma appears as brown splotches on the face, especially around the eyes, and on the neck and chest. Melasma normally occurs because of hormonal changes and sun damage.
There are several other kinds of hyperpigmentation such as age spots, but melasma is the most common. The brown splotches are caused by melanin, which is a pigment that gives color to the skin. Melanin is often produced because of exposure to sunlight. It can worsen over time.
Just because you have unsightly blemishes or brown splotches doesn’t mean that melasma is the cause. The melasma splotches are normally darker than the surrounding skin, causing them to stand out. Though it can be mistaken for freckles, the distinction is that the melasma splotches usually have an irregular shape.
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How can glycolic acid help with hyperpigmentation?
The main benefit of glycolic acid is that it’s able to lighten the skin by evening out the skin tone. It does that by exfoliating the skin’s surface, removing the top layer (stratum corneum) of darker dead skin cells.
Glycolic acid and melanin
Melanin is the pigment that gives skin color. Glycolic acid can break down the bonds between the melanin and the skin cells, in turn reducing acne scars, sun damage, skin discoloration and other types of mild hyper pigmentation without white-washing your face. .
This can result in a more even skin tone, which achieves “skin lightening.”
Best concentration of glycolic acid
Since hyperpigmentation is caused by melanin, the goal is to break down the melanin, and you need to use glycolic acid products that have about 10% concentration.
Glycolic acid products for or skin lightening and Hyperpigmentation
1. Glycolic Acid Peels
2. Glycolic Acid Exfoliators
A glycolic acid peel, also known as a chemical peel, is a type of skin care treatment that can be used to remove dead skin cells, remove acne, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The peel is applied to the skin and then removed.
Using glycolic acid peels can reduce pigmentation and work with other ingredients to lighten your skin. They can also help you achieve a fresh new look. They are a great way to clean your skin to help it look healthier and smoother. So that’s why we recommend peels as your first choice.
Let’s look at some of our favorite glycolic acid peels
For smooth, clean, and more youthful-looking skin, the Glycolix glycolic-acid treatment pads are what you want. They’re pore-minimizing free-radical fighters that repair damaged skin and remove oils and residue left behind from a long day. It will visibly renew and brighten skin. Witch hazel is also at work to deliver skin-toning and vitamins A, C, E and Coenzyme Q10 provide added nutrients that soothe even the most sensitive skin.
The pads come in 10%, 15% or 20% concentration. We’ve linked to the 10% concentration as we recommended earlier.
Replenix Acne Solutions Gly/Sal Acne Pads contain pure glycolic acid and salicylic acid to effectively unclog pores, accelerate the removal of dead skin cells that can interfere with proper oil drainage of the skin, and treat breakouts.
These salicylic and glycolic acid pads treat breakouts, remove dead skin cells, and unclog pores to even your skin’s texture. They’re easy-to-use and designed for acne-prone skin.
The product comes in 10% or 5% concentration. And the link here is to the 10% strength.
These pads are ideal for those who are looking to consistently improve their skin. These pads contain 10% buffered and pH-adjusted glycolic acid, which thoroughly sloughs away dead skin cells to reveal smoother, healthier-looking skin.
It removes dull skin cells to reveal glowing and even skin tone, without peeling or redness. It is also gentle enough that it can be used on a consistent basis.
Other glycolic acid products to address hyperpigmentation
This Glycolic Acid-based moisturizer is a fantastic anti-aging product for your face. It has a rich, luxurious texture that helps produce a beautiful complexion. This chemical exfoliation moisturizer can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, brightness, clarity, uneven skin tone, pores, and smoothness over time.
Glycolic acid peels reminders
These peels we recommended are the ones you can do at home. That is better than visiting the doctor’s for a couple obvious reasons but you need to exercise caution.
Never leave the peel on for a long time. The instructions on the back of the box are helpful, and so is contacting a dermatologist to make sure that you’re using the peel correctly. Make sure you are putting on sunscreen after as a preventative measure against sensitivity.
Is glycolic acid safe?
Glycolic acid is safe to use in controlled amounts. The chemical is regularly used to treat other skin issues as well such as acne and wrinkles. But it still has the potential to be very irritating. You can be susceptible to irritation even if you don’t normally have sensitive skin.
Most people who have used glycolic acid peels report that they saw an improvement in their uneven skin tone after doing so.
Potential side effects
Glycolic acid (like all alpha hydroxy acids) is considered to be a safe, effective chemical to use in your daily skincare routine.
Because of its acidity, there’s still the chance that it may cause a few side effects. These include:
1. redness or skin irritation
If you have redness or flakiness, or if your skin starts to peel, after using glycolic acid, consider switching to a lower strength product for better results. Alternatively, use a different chemical exfoliant such as lactic acid.
Remember, it’s always good to start with a low percentage and then increase strength as your skin gets used to the regimen. Though gentler than other beta hydroxy acid exfoliants such as salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids can still be harsh for some skin types. Letting your skin adjust and finding the right frequency will be key. Start with once per week, and then work your way up from there unless otherwise recommended by your skin care professional.
Kojic Acid or Kojic Dipalmitate and Alpha Arbutina
You will see Kojic Acid or kojic Acid Dipalmitate (a derivative of kojic acid) and Alpha Arbutin in the same products along with glycolic acid often. That’s because they are also ingredients to lighten your skin.
Alpha Arbutin is an active ingredient and is extracted from bearberry leaves. It reduces melanin production by inhibiting the enzymes at work in the pigment formation.
Kojic acid is also extracted from mushrooms, inhibiting the enzymes that work in the pigment formation.
Together, they inhibit the production of melanin. You will find a combination of these 3 ingredients in many products as they work wonderfully together to lighten skin and spots.
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
Although Ascorbic Acid is a wonderful ingredient that lightens hyperpigmentation by impeding melanin production as well, you want to be careful of using it alongisde glycolic acid.
It’s not that the products mixed together will lose effectiveness. They could potentially be used together, but because both are made in acidic formulations and quite powerful, the combination can end up causing skin irritaiton. If you want to go this route, make sure to ramp it up really slowly.
Other things that you should know about Glycolic Acid
Does glycolic acid cause purging?
Yes, occasionally, using glycolic acid can cause a breakout in acne prone skin. However, if you are seeing acne on parts of the face where you have never had acne before, then you should discontinue use of the product, as it is irritating your skin and causing your acne to become inflamed.
Is glycolic acid good for treating acne?
Yes, glycolic acid is a great choice for acne-prone skin. Refer to our article on how it can pair up with retinol and really treat acne.
However, if your primary concern is acne, check out benzoyl peroxide or azelaic acid. These are helpful for moderate to severe inflammatory acne and cystic acne. If oil control and sensitive skin are your chief concerns, you should see what salicylic acid can do for you.
Things you must do after a glycolic peel
Sunscreen: Protect your skin from the sun with sunscreen. The FDA recommends applying sunscreen daily. Alpha hydroxy acids exfoliates dead skin and uncovers fresh skin, but fresh skin is more sensitive to sunlight. You don’t want to end up with even more pigmentation from sun damage, do you? Always wear sunscreen.
Moisturizer: Apply moisturizer after you apply glycolic acid-based products. Remember to always apply moisturizer twice a day (morning and evening) to protect and hydrate your skin. It is best to use moisturizers that are more gentle for the first few times that you are using a glycolic acid product to avoid any potential redness or irritation.