Glycolic acid (or hydroxyacetic acid) is the smallest alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) While other hydroxy acids come from fruits and dairy products, glycolic acid comes from sugar cane. It is colorless, odorless, and highly adsorbing and soluble in water.
It has excellent capability to penetrate the skin finding applications in skin care products, most often as a chemical peel performed by a licensed aesthetician, plastic surgeon or dermatologist in concentrations of 20 to 70% or at home in lower concentrations between 10 to 20% glycolic acid. The pH is important in determining the potency of glycolic acid in solution. Physician-strength peels can have a pH as low as 0.6 (strong enough to completely keratolyze the epidermis causing the outer layer of the skin to loosen and shed the epidermis), while acidities for home peels can be as high as 2.5. This serves to improve the skin's moisture binding capacity, which is beneficial in the treatment of dry skin.
Glycolic acid is used to improve the skin's appearance and texture. It may reduce wrinkles, fine lines, acne scarring, hyperpigmentation and many other skin conditions such as solar keratosis, Once applied, glycolic acid reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis weakening the binding properties of the lipids that hold the dead skin cells together, exfoliating the outermost layer and exposing live skin cells.
Glycolic has the ability to penetrate the skin's surface. Once it reaches the skin cells underneath the outer layer, it can promote the production of collagen for firmer, more youthful skin. Additional collagen can also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles that are typical as skin ages.