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How special is glycolic acid? And how ordinary is the Ordinary?

The Ordinary Peeling Solution:

Glycolic Acid, Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Daucus Carota Sativa Extract, Propanediol, Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Salicylic Acid, Potassium Citrate, Lactic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Xanthan gum, Polysorbate 20, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

Very ordinary. Why? more of the same: an inflated number for concentration of acid when in reality most of it is a salt.

More ordinary: a list of acids that are here just for “label value”. Also, present as salts.  Useless! The red color is also a “value” thing. The acids are not colored.

If this is mostly a salt solution, why worry? What’s the danger?  An uninformed DIYer may take the number seriously and make a 30% glycolic acid solution and burn their skin! Don’t!

What to use instead? Skin Actives sells an Alpha/Beta Exfoliant. Here is a blog post about it. 


For your information, here is what you need to know about alpha hydroxy acids.

Alpha hydroxy acids
Natural chemicals, used in skin exfoliation.
The alpha hydroxy acids commonly used in the skin care industry include: lactic, mandelic, malic, citric, glycolic, etc.
Alpha hydroxyl acids are weak acids (weakly ionized) used as exfoliants because they are safe to use at relatively high concentrations. Although present in fruits and milk, these days the acids are likely to be obtained by bacterial fermentation. As far as exfoliation power and relative safety are concerned, the concentration of the acid is not as important as the final pH (determined by the molar concentration and the tendency of the acid to dissociate, measured by the pK).
Many products advertising high concentrations of acids have been buffered (pH has been raised) using a base like KOH, so that most of the acid is present as a salt and the exfoliation power will be greatly diminished. There are no particular benefits to one or another acid despite claims like “better penetration”
Note: Exfoliation increases sensitivity to UV. Prevent exposure of your skin to the sun after exfoliation.


And finally, how safe are glycolic acid products? 

You will always be putting your faith in the manufacturer because pH is not disclosed. You can buy from an established brand because they take safety of the customer very seriously.

Never buy a glycolic acid product from an unknown source/not-established brand. If they don’t know chemistry, you can be harmed.

Remember that the most external layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, constitutes a major part of the skin barrier. When you remove this layer with an exfoliant or peel, you may like that the skin feels “softer”. But your skin will be more sensitive to any external threats, including UV, pollutants, and infection.


DISCLAIMER: These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.

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