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Glycolic acid vs salicylic acid: Which one is better for skin?

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Glycolic acid vs salicylic acid: Two popular ingredients used in various skin care products. Know the pros and cons of these skincare ingredients.

The beauty industry is booming, and it can be hard to keep up with the latest skincare ingredients. While there are so many ingredients out there, glycolic acid and salicylic acid are two of the most popular skincare ingredients that are used in several skincare products. But ever wondered which one is better for your skin: glycolic acid vs salicylic acid? If you are confused, here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of the two ingredients and which one is better for you.

What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid (GA) is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). This compound is commonly found in sugary and acidic fruits such as sugarcane, lemons, and melons. These acids are water-soluble and are used as exfoliants. It is one of the most widely used AHA in skincare known for its exfoliating, hydrating, and anti-aging properties, as found in a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

glycolic acid serums for face
Glycolic acid is a great skincare ingredient. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock.

Benefits of glycolic acid

Here are some of the potential benefits of glycolic acid:

1. Fights acne

“Glycolic acid is good for those with acne-prone skin. This skincare acid is a popular choice for exfoliating dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Acne arises when a pore becomes clogged with dirt, oil, germs, and other pollutants. Glycolic acid contains exfoliating properties that can be beneficial in such cases. You will see a reduction in acne with consistent use, says dermatologist and cosmetologist Dr Ritika Shanmugam.

2. Treats mild hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is a common problem these days across all age groups. This skin condition is caused by increased melanin synthesis in the skin. According to a study published in the European Journal of Medical Research, glycolic acid can help treat mild hyperpigmentation by exfoliating the top damaged layer of the skin. Additionally, it can reduce the traces of ageing and sun damage.

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3. Gives glowing skin

Glycolic acid not only plumps the skin by increasing its moisture levels, but it also acts as a gentle exfoliant. Using glycolic acid can brighten the skin and give it a healthy appearance since it helps the skin maintain moisture, as per a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology.

4. Helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles

If you are dealing with premature ageing and want to minimise fine lines and wrinkles, glycolic acid may be useful. It helps to increase collagen levels in the skin, which is crucial for keeping it supple and healthy, as per a study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science.

Are there any side effects of glycolic acid?

People with sensitive skin should use glycolic acid with caution as it can irritate the skin. People with sensitive, dry skin may benefit from lactic acid, a gentler AHA, suggests a study published in the Molecules MDPI Journal.

Other potential side effects of glycolic acid as explained by expert are:

  • Burning
  • Skin rash
  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Dryness
  • Skin swelling

Plus, it can make the skin sensitive to sunlight so it is advised to always use sunscreen while using glycolic acid.

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What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid and an exfoliating agent. It is a natural exfoliator obtained from wintergreen plants. Salicylic acid is perfect for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin because it is lipophilic by nature (mixes well with oil). Salicylic acid is less irritating to the skin than glycolic acid since its molecules are slightly bigger, as per a study published in the StatPearl Journal.

What are the benefits of salicylic acid?

Here are some of the notable benefits of salicylic acid:

1. Reduces blackheads and whiteheads

“Salicylic acid, unlike glycolic acid, penetrates the surface of the skin and helps eliminate dirt from its pores. When extra sebum, debris, and hair follicles combine, pores become clogged. This makes your skin appear dull and rough and causes blackheads and whiteheads. Salicylic acid gives you clean, healthy skin by deeply cleaning pores,” says the expert.

2. Controls excess oil

Salicylic acid, a potent BHA, controls sebum production and keeps skin from becoming too oily. Including this skincare acid in your routine will balance oil without leaving your skin dry. People with combination, oily, and acne-prone skin benefit from it the most, according to a study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology Journal.

A woman with oily skin
Salicylic acid helps maintain a healthy glow by managing oil levels. Image courtesy: Freepik

3. Keeps acne at bay

Salicylic acid acts on the deeper layers of the skin by cleaning pores, leading to fewer outbreaks and acne. Red acne bumps are not only uncomfortable, but they also make your face appear dull. Salicylic acid has calming qualities that can relieve pimple-related redness and pain, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association of Journal.

Also Read: Salicylic acid for acne may be the answer to your prayers! Here’s why

Are there any side effects of salicylic acid?

Although salicylic acid is generally harmless, it might cause skin irritation when used initially. Additionally, it can deprive the skin of its natural oils, which could irritate and cause dryness.

Other potential side effects of salicylic are as per a study published in the Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology Journal:

  • Stinging sensation on the skin
  • Itching
  • Peeling skin
  • Hives

Glycolic acid vs salicylic acid: Which is better for your skin?

Glycolic acid and salicylic acid are both effective skincare ingredients that can be incorporated into your skincare routine. People with sensitive and dry skin can opt for glycolic acid whereas those with oily and acne-prone skin can choose salicylic acid. You can choose the ingredients according to your skin type and skin concern.



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