Do you find yourself standing in the skincare aisles for a while confused as to which acids are for what concerns?  There are so many potent ingredients out there, but when it comes to common ingredients such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid, you may wonder what is the function of each. Stay tuned and take some notes because I will help you understand the main differences between both acids in this article.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Its natural source is willow bark, sweet birch and wintergreen. Salicylic acid works by loosening the bond between cells at the surface of the skin, or stratum corneum.

Salicylic acid is an exfoliant that penetrates deeper into the skin than alpha-hydroxy acid (or AHA). It helps unclog pores by loosening the “glue” that holds skin cells together. Salicylic acid may be used morning and night. SALICYLIC ACID: Salicylic acid can be purchased over the counter. It is a beta hydroxy acid and is most commonly used to treat whiteheads/blackheads. Some of the uses for Salicylic Acid are as follows:

  • Works as an exfoliant to unclog the pores.
  • Acts as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Helps build collagen.
  • Treats mild acne breakouts.
  • Suitable for oily, combination, and/or acne-prone skin.

what is salicylic acid

What is Glycolic Acid?

GLYCOLIC ACID Glycolic Acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid made from sugarcane. As a result, it makes an excellent acid for those looking to use acids for his/her first time. The molecules in this acid are very small which enables it to absorb better into the skin for better results. It also comes in various strengths, therefore, it is easy to build tolerance to it.  Higher grade strengths of glycolic acid are used in peels administered in dermatologist offices or medical spas. Some of the uses for Glycolic Acid are as follows:

  • Exfoliates the outermost layer of the skin.
  • Minimizes skin discolorations/acne scars.
  • Reduces fine lines/wrinkles.
  • Treats mild to moderate acne.
  • Suitable for all skin types.

what is Glycolic acid

Here are some awesome product recommendations for salicylic acid topical treatments:

Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum— Prevents acne eruptions before they start with this salicylic acid based gel.

Skin Medica AHA/BHA Cleanser This combined 32% AHA/BHA exfoliating cleanser gently scrubs away dead skin using ultra-fine Jojoba Beads with Alpha-Hydroxy and Beta-Hydroxy Acids to help smooth skin texture.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash— Medicated acne face wash formulated with salicylic acid Acne medication. Targets excess oil and helps clear acne breakouts

Here are product recommendations for glycolic acid skincare treatments:

Skinceuticals Glycolic Renewal Cleanser: 

This gel cleanser contains 8% glycolic free acid value to help exfoliate skin while effectively cleansing impurities. It is hydrating as well as a brightening cleanser.

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution:  This toner, formulated with 7% glycolic acid, offers gentle exfoliation for improved skin brightness.

Pixi Glow Pads: These pads are formulated 20% Glycolic and Rose Water, which help to achieve a healthy, radiant complexion over time.

As with any acids, it is recommended to start with a lower concentration every other day for a week or two to see how your skin reacts. Use a good moisturizer after applying your salicylic acid treatment to minimize redness and dryness. It is also important to wear sunscreen daily while using any acid to reduce the risk of skin cancer and scarring.

As always, acids take time to build tolerance. I usually recommend giving the product 8-12 weeks to see a full result. Always do a test patch and wait @4-48 hours to test for allergic reactions. Consult with your dermatologist should you experience any side effects.

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