When a stubborn breakout hits, it can feel like nothing really works to clear the situation. But experts say that glycolic acid is a largely unsung hero in the fight against acne. Incorporating the ingredient into your skin-care routine offers a variety of other benefits, too.
Glycolic acid is the smallest alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and is found in natural sources like sugarcane, pineapple, and cantaloupe—though most of it is now commercially produced. “Glycolic is the gold standard of chemical exfoliants and the best one for removing unwanted dead skin cells,” says New York City dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D., host of DermTV.com and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz.
By removing clogged cells from both the pores and surface of skin, glycolic acid helps prevent acne blemishes and ensures faster healing of existing lesions, including blackheads and whiteheads. By the same process, it reduces the appearance of enlarged pores that can plague areas like the nose.
When formulated well, glycolic acid typically causes less irritation than other acne-fighters like retinol, while still delivering great results. And the change goes beyond just clearing up pimples: It’s also the key to brighter skin, since it removes dulling, discolored dead cells. “Smooth skin reflects light, and that’s why glycolic is so successful at improving the appearance of skin,” says Schultz.