The Ultimate Guide to Glycolic Acid Serum: Benefits and Usage

Glycolic acid serum is a potent chemical exfoliant that eliminates dead skin cells and oils to uncover a smoother and rejuvenated skin surface. It also plays a role in the promotion of collagen production and skin hydration.

This acid alleviates the need for physical scrubbing. Therefore, it reduces the risk of irritation, which makes it an ideal choice to address acne, hyperpigmentation, and aging signs. Despite its benefits, improper usage can cause adverse effects such as skin irritation.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about Glycolic acid serum, including its benefits and potential side effects.

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid serum originates from natural sources such as fruits, beets, and sugarcane. It is a colorless and odorless compound. In skincare, it’s synthesized in laboratories for use in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products to improve skin texture and condition.

As part of the alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) family, glycolic acid serum has a small molecular weight, which gives it better penetrative properties compared to other products.

Other types of AHA are:

Citric Acid – Found in citrus fruits (used for skin rejuvenation).

Malic Acid – Found in apples (used to exfoliate the skin).

Lactic Acid – Derived from milk (moisturizes and hydrates the skin).

Glycolic acid’s unique properties make it a preferred ingredient in skincare products, as it provides deep exfoliation and promotes healthier and more vibrant skin.

How does Glycolic acid serum work

Glycolic acid serum is unique compared to other alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) as it has the smallest molecular weight. As a result, it has the ability to penetrate and effectively exfoliate the skin.

The mechanism of glycolic acid serum involves the acceleration of cell turnover. It achieves this by dissolving the bonds that keep skin cells attached to each other, which mediates the shedding of dead skin cells.

In addition to its exfoliating properties, glycolic acid serum also stimulates the production of collagen. Collagen is a vital protein that’s responsible for keeping the skin firm, full, and elastic.

As the body ages, it produces less collagen. Moreover, exposure to excessive sunlight can further degrade collagen. The regular application of glycolic acid serum slows down the degradation of collagen. Therefore, it contributes to the skin’s overall health and youthfulness.

What are the benefits of glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid serum is a potent ingredient in skincare that provides a number of benefits. Most of these effects are backed up by evidence-based research.

Here’s an in-depth look at the benefits of glycolic acid serum:


A study noted that glycolic acid serum can actually improve acne, especially the type associated with comedones. The subjects in this study used a 70% glycolic acid serum.

We should note that the high concentrations can be dangerous, which is why they’re reserved for peeling that’s done by professionals. Most over-the-counter glycolic acid serums come at significantly lower concentrations.

Furthermore, acne can be the result of many dermatological diseases, such as rosacea. Therefore, relying on glycolic acid to treat acne in these cases might not be effective. In this scenario, it’s best to consult with your doctor. Once you receive the treatment, ask your doctor whether it’s possible to add glycolic acid to your skincare routine.

UV damage

Glycolic acid serum can treat skin damage that’s caused by UV exposure, including sunspots, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles. These signs are collectively known as photoaging.

Research indicates that glycolic acid serum can protect against UVB rays. This could potentially prevent photoaging. Additionally, a study from 2020 highlighted the effectiveness of glycolic acid serum in fighting sun damage and age-related skin deterioration.


As the skin ages, it loses elasticity, which causes fine lines and wrinkles. Glycolic acid serum can counter these effects as it boosts the levels of hyaluronic acid, which hydrates the skin, stimulates collagen production, and improves fibroblast and keratinocyte proliferation.

These properties were supported by a 2020 study, which found that glycolic acid serum is a powerful anti-aging product.


Warts are small viral growths on the skin that might resolve with the use of glycolic acid serum. A study that involved 31 HIV-positive children demonstrated that a 15% glycolic acid serum could flatten warts and normalize their color. In 10% of cases, there was complete resolution of the warts.

Another study focused on the use of a gel with 15% glycolic acid serum and 2% salicylic acid against warts. The results showed that this combination is highly effective. However, the small samples of studies warrant further research before drawing any conclusions.

The safety of glycolic acid

Glycolic acid serum is generally considered safe and effective for skin care. However, you should follow some guidelines to ensure its safety.

Sun Protection – It’s vital to apply sunscreen when you use glycolic acid serum since all alpha hydroxy acids can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. This sensitivity can precipitate sunburn, which could potentially negate all the benefits of glycolic acid serum on your skin.

Gradual Introduction – Start using over-the-counter (OTC) glycolic acid serum cautiously (start with 2-3 times a week). During this time, observe how your skin responds. If there’s no irritation or redness, you can gradually increase usage to four times a week. If you notice irritation, stop using the product and let your skin recover.

Patience with the process – After the initial application, your skin might feel somewhat rough, which is a normal reaction. Unless you experience irritation, continue with the application. Your skin will feel smoother over time.

Note that if you are taking any medical treatment for a skin condition, you should consult with your dermatologist before applying glycolic acid serum.

Takeaway message

Glycolic acid serum provides the skin with an array of benefits, especially for individuals with rough skin or keratosis pilaris. However, you must pay attention to some of the safety concerns that come with using this product.

We hope that this article managed to detail the uses and benefits of Glycolic acid serum, especially on the skin.

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