What Is Glycolic Acid & Why Do You Need It?

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It seems every time we open up our in-boxes, there's some new wonder ingredient — found deep in the jungles of the Amazon or 20,000 leagues under the sea — that promises to transform our complexion. Pardon us, but we're getting a little weary of all these supernatural skin care claims. We'd much rather hedge our bets on something that's not only tried and tested, but that actually works. Something like, say, glycolic acid.
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Glycolic acid is a fruit acid, derived from sugar cane, and is best used to exfoliate and retexturize your skin. According to dermatologist Dr. Craig Austin, it also has the smallest molecular size of any alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), meaning it can actually attract water, which gives it moisturizing qualities, too. "Glycolic acid significantly improves the skin," says Dr. Austin. "It is clinically proven to correct hyper-pigmentation and skin discoloration, reverse sun damage, decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and shrink pores. The result is radiant skin with a healthy glow."
Dr. Austin says that glycolic acid is a good option for those seeking anti-aging benefits, but also for those suffering from acne and its side-effects. It can help clear up breakouts, fade dark marks left behind by pimples, and minimize scarring. There are also no limitations with glycolic acid, unlike retinols. "It can be used in all seasons, for all types of skin, and is even safe for women who are pregnant," says Dr. Austin. "Glycolic acid is good for all skin types and pigmentations. Those with sensitive, dry, oily, dark, and light skin, all benefit from using it." And unlike retinols, it won't increase sensitivity to the sun or result in dry, red, irritated skin.
If that weren't enough to get you to hop on the glycolic acid bandwagon, Dr. Austin says that new advances have made this skin care savior even more awesome. "More recently, pure glycolic acid has been used in conjunction with other antioxidants for better delivery and effectiveness. These antioxidants are more beneficial when they are part of a formula with glycolic acid, than when used alone."
What that all adds up to is even glowier, clearer, all-around more gorgeous skin. Ready to add this little skin care miracle worker into your daily skin care regimen? We thought so.
Malin + Goetz 10% Glycolic Acid Pads, $48, available at Barneys; Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 3% Facial Wash, $32, available at Sephora; Cane + Austin Retexturizing Treatment Pads, $60, available at Nordstrom.
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