Glycolic acid (alpha hydroxy acid - AHA)

Naturally occurring acid which powerfully exfoliates



Many of us here at acne.org have known for years that alpha hydroxy acid helps keep us clearer. Finally, the scientific community is backing us up:

"... superficial peeling will hasten the transition of closed comedones to the surface of the epidermis resulting in a quicker clearance of the lesions."
Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2008.1
"... available trials do provide support to the widespread clinical impression that superficial chemical peels have utility in the management of acne and oily skin."
Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 2010.2
"[Hydroxy acids] play an important role in cosmetic formulations, as well as in many dermatologic applications, such as ... acne."
Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. 2010.3
"Alpha- and beta-hydroxy acid peels both offer successful adjunctive treatment of facial acne vulgaris."
Dermatologic Surgery. 2008.4
"Based on the results of this study, we can state [glycolic acid] and [amino fruit acid] peels are efficacious for comedonal acne."
Journal of Cosmetics and Laser Therapy. 2010.5
Use a thin line when applying to the face. More than this and it may sting too much.

Glycolic acid can take The Regimen to the next level, helping you to achieve even more reliably clear skin. After you've been on The Regimen for at least 1 month, try using glycolic acid in place of your usual nightly moisturizer every 2-3 days. Alternately, mix an equal amount of glycolic acid and moisturizer in your palm and apply this way every night.

Flakiness control: If you are on The Regimen and are having problems with flaky skin, adding in glycolic acid as outlined above will completely eliminate flakes.

Be generous when treating your body

The one-two punch of benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid works brilliantly at treating the more stubborn skin of the back/body and back of the neck.

Use a tiny amount

If you see a zit forming try blasting it with 10% glycolic acid after you have applied 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and allowed it to dry. Many people find that this prevents the zit from maturing. Keep in mind that the way this works best is if you catch it very early.

Visitor poll - How well did glycolic acid work at stopping zits from enlarging and healing them faster?



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The amount varies depending upon how large of an area is irritated.

When anything rubs against the skin repeatedly, such as a chin strap or baseball cap for example, it irritates the skin and can cause a breakout. Attempt to avoid or reduce irritation when possible. If you do end up irritating your skin, you may find that applying glycolic acid after your next Regimen application can help prevent an irritation-induced acne flare up.

Important notice!

  • AHA may increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun and particularly the possibility of sunburn. Use a sunscreen and limit sun exposure while using AHA and for a week after discontinuing its use.
  • Do not use AHA until you have been on The Regimen for 3-4 weeks. It can produce a severe sting if you use it at the onset of a benzoyl peroxide regimen.

Our store

AHA+: 10% glycolic acid + licochalcone. Available in 6oz. and 16oz. sizes.


Store shelves, drugstore.com, or amazon.com

(Acne.org is not connected with this product or manufacturer in any way and receives no compensation for these links.)

Alpha Hydrox Enhanced Lotion - 10% glycolic acid: You can sometimes find this product at your local drugstore, and always at drugstore.com or amazon.com. Not all glycolic acid products work well. Be sure to look for Alpha Hydrox Enhanced Lotion specifically. From Dan: "This is the only store bought glycolic acid that worked for me."

  1. Kempiak S, Uebelhoer N. "Superficial chemical peels and microdermabrasion for acne vulgaris." Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2008; 27(3): 212-220.
  2. Aztori L, at. al. "Glycolic acid peels in the treatment of acne." Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 1999; 12(2): 119-122.
  3. Kornhauser A, Coelho S, Hearing V. "Applications of hydroxy acids: Classifications, mechanisms, and photoactivity." Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. 2010; 3: 135-214.
  4. Kessler E, et. al. "Comparison of Α- and Β-hydroxy acid chemical peels in the treatment of mild to moderately severe facial acne vulgaris." Dermatologic Surgery. 2008; 34(1): 45-50.
  5. Ilknur T, et. al. "Glycolic acid peels versus amino fruit acid peels for acne." Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy. 2010; 12(5): 242-245.