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What Is a Glycolic Exfoliator?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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A glycolic exfoliator is a skin care product that is designed to eliminate the top layers of a user's skin. Such a product is often applied during a procedure that is referred to as a chemical peel. A person may conduct the procedure herself, or she may choose to have it done by a professional. In either case, following the application of a glycolic exfoliator, it is important for an individual to faithfully use sunscreen.

To get a better understanding of these products, it is best to first understand what glycolic acid is and how it works. Glycolic acid is a natural product that is commonly produced from sugar cane. This acid is included in skin care solutions because it has been found to have the ability to eliminate the outer layers of skin. When it penetrates into the skin, it also helps to promote the generation of new cells, which can help a person to have a healthier appearance.

The process of exfoliating with glycolic acid, or getting a chemical peel, is fairly simple. The skin is usually cleansed thoroughly. The acidic solution is then brushed onto the skin and allowed to stand for some time. Afterward the solution is removed and the treated area is neutralized. At this point, the skin is likely to be very sensitive to sun, deeming sunscreen essential. Between uses of the glycolic exfoliator, a person may be advised to use other skin care products containing smaller amounts of the acid to help maximize the results.

Although the overall reason for using a glycolic exfoliator is to remove the top layers of skin, there are several other reasons why a person would want to do this. Some people exfoliate to help slow the process of aging. Others may do it because they are trying to manage acne-prone skin. This type of exfoliation is also sought when the outer layers of skin are damaged or disfigured by excessive acne scars.

Every glycolic exfoliator is not the same. One of the major differences between these products is their potency, which is generally determined by the amount of glycolic acid that is in a given product. This is normally expressed as a percentage. In many jurisdictions, the stronger products are not available for in-home personal use. They must either be applied by a dermatologist or a licensed skin care professional.

Another difference between these products is that they may be mixed with a variety of other ingredients. The list of ingredients will largely depend on the product's aims. For example, a product designed to treat aging may include substances that are not needed in a product that is designed to balance skin tone. Access to stronger products is generally limited to professionals because adverse effects may be experienced if a product is applied that is too strong for an individual's skin. There are also risks if such a product is left on the skin for too long.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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