If you have yet to discover the many uses of glycolic acid for your complexion, start taking notes. With the ability to tackle just about every issue, from breakouts to fine lines, it more or less acts as the skin-care equivalent of that straight-A student who somehow has time to kill it in both the extracurricular and social realms. Those who are more familiar with a minimalistic 3-step routine shouldn't be intimidated by the burn risk suggested by the "acid" moniker—the ingredient helps to dissolve oil and sebum at the top layer of your skin, exfoliates any dead skin cells that your trusted scrub didn't quite catch, and, depending on your needs, can be used for much more. Read on to see how you can use glycolic acid to address four common skin issues.
Any beauty buff worth her limited-edition Clarisonic brush is surely familiar with the blemish-fighting power of glycolic acid. The ingredient can penetrate deep into the skin, making it ideal for addressing cystic and regular acne breakouts alike—plus it almost seems to dissolve blackheads on contact. We love the Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner ($18; ulta.com) and Peter Thomas Roth's Acne Clearing Gel ($54; nordstrom.com) for treating the entire face or large areas. To kill those obnoxious, soul-destroying, under-the-skin bumps, we reach for the Murad Acne Spot Treatment ($18; sephora.com).
Combating Signs of Aging
Glycolic acid increases cell turnover, which is a fancy way of saying that the ingredient sloughs away the dead skin built up on the very surface, and helps the new cells at a lower level surface to the top. Serums like Renée Rouleau's AHA Smoothing formula ($46; reneerouleau.com) work overtime to smooth over fine lines and reduce damage as you sleep, while the glycolic acid-infused Ultimate Worker Cream by Philosophy ($75; sephora.com) keeps the process going during the day with the addition of sun protection. We're also loving REN's Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask ($59; sephora.com) for those days our complexion is looking slightly dull.
Minimizing Dark Spots and Pores
Lady Macbeth can have her "out damned spot" phrase. Thanks to the aforementioned exfoliation properties, products like Caudalie's Glycolic Peel ($39; nordstrom.com) and the Paula's Choice Dark Spot Eraser ($25; nordstrom.com) can effectively fade spots caused by the sun or acne by evening out the scar and fading the discoloration. Additionally, the ingredient helps give pores a more miniscule appearance. The reason? When dirt, oil, and sebum are clogging your pores, they tend to take on a much larger appearance. A two-step system like Perricone MD's ($98; sephora.com) is jam-packed with glycolic acid and will clear the blockage and cause the pores to tighten.
Treating Ingrown Hairs
When an ingrown hair is trapped under your skin, resist the ever-present urge to reach for the tweezers. Instead, go for a glycolic-based product like Completely Bare's Bikini Bump Blaster Pads ($10; ulta.com) or Anthony's Ingrown Hair Treatment ($32; nordstrom.com), the latter of which is technically for the boys, but works just as well for a stubborn spot on your leg. The exfoliation will help to slough away the dead skin keeping it just under the surface, and will prevent new ones from taking shape.