Glycolic acid deserves its buzz, anyone who’s tried it can attest to that – but first, what is it? We sat down with LeeAnne Leslie, Professional Training and Education Manager at Alpha-H, to find out the answers to all your glycolic acid questions. Here’s why it’s popping up everywhere and is the new need-to-know acid on the scene.
What is Glycolic Acid?
“Glycolic Acid is a natural fruit acid that’s most commonly derived from sugar cane,” explains LeeAnne. “It works to exfoliate the skin by breaking down the intracellular glue which holds dead cells to the outermost layers of the skin.” Once it’s applied to the skin, glycolic acid does everything from soften wrinkles, to fade pigmentation and sun damage, generally improve skin tone and texture, and even create moisture from within the skin. According to LeeAnne, different acids have different capabilities. “Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) has a smaller molecular structure than other acids (like lactic acid, for instance) so it can penetrate the skin easily,” she explains, noting that glycolic acid It is the star ingredient in the brand’s Liquid Gold: $59.95 product.
Scalp and Skin Benefits
As a chemical exfoliant, glycolic acid works to shift dead skin cells from the skin’s surface by breaking down and lifting the substance that causes dead cells to cluster together. Once that layer of skin is removed, fresh, new skin is left in its wake. The result is a more luminous complexion and a cleansed scalp. However, glycolic acid doesn’t just exfoliate the surface. “Due to its small molecular size, it is also able to trigger exfoliation on the walls of your pores, which helps to reduce the build-up of cells in the pores that can lead to breakouts,” says LeeAnne. Because of the comparatively small molecular size of glycolic acid, it is able to penetrate more deeply into the skin and take other, larger ingredients, along with it, ramping up your benefits. “Glycolic acid also a powerful moisture magnet, and boosts hydration in your skin by increasing its natural production of hyaluronic acid. It triggers your skin’s healing processes and prompts them to produce more collagen fibres,” she continues. Glycolic acid will benefit all skin and scalp types, and since it helps increase cell turnover, its results will be best observed in anyone older than their mid to late 20s, which is when this process starts to naturally decrease – even for scalps.
pH and Acidity
The one thing to pay attention to when purchasing a product with glycolic acid is the pH level. The lower the pH, the more efficacious the product is, LeeAnne explains. “Essentially, a higher pH results in a weaker peel as the acid has been partially neutralised, where a lower pH delivery results in a deeper peel, and the more of an effect it can impart on the live skin cells. With a pH of around 2.8, some 90% of the glycolic acid in Liquid Gold is bioavailable to our skin.”
To reap the scalp-specific benefits of treating the hair with acid, try Oribe’s Serene Scalp line, which gently detoxes using acids, while moisturizing every strand.