Using Glycolic Acid to Treat Acne

Glycolic acid is one of the most useful products for “peeling” the skin to remove the brown spots that often linger on the skin after acne heals. Glycolic acid has to be used at the right concentration and at the right pH to work, and not every skin type responds well to glycolic acid in acne treatment. Here is what you need to know about glycolic acid for acne-affected skin.

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Summary:

  • Glycolic acid is a “fruit acid” used to peel blemished skin.
  • Glycolic acid has to be used at the right concentration and the right pH or it won’t work.
  • The most expensive glycolic acid products work about as well as the least expensive glycolic acid products.
  • Any product that you put on the skin for only a few seconds before rinsing does your skin little or no good.
  • Alcohol and essential oils can trigger new blemishes even if the other ingredients in the product remove old blemishes.

Where Would You Find Glycolic Acid Products?

Most people don’t go to the cosmetics counter or surf the Internet with “glycolic acid” in mind when they look for acne skin care. And most acne products that contain glycolic acid don’t have the term “glycolic acid” in their names. Here are some common glycolic acid acne products, good and bad, expensive and inexpensive:

  • [C] Renewal Double Renewal System by Sothys Paris sells for US $120 for two 0.5 oz (14 gram) tubes of glycolic acid and a neutralizing agent.
  • Acne Spot Treatment by Murad retails for US $19.95 for 0.5 oz/15 ml.
  • Acne Wash by B. Kamins, Chemist retails for US $34.00 for 8 oz/240 ml.
  • Advanced Solutions Complete Acne Therapy System by Neutrogena retails for US $24.99.
  • Alpha Hydrox Foaming
  • Clear Skin Blemish Dissolver by Kinerase retails for US $39.00 for 0.12 oz/4 ml.
  • Clearskin Blemish Clearing Pads by Avon sell for US $4.99 per box of 30.
  • Facial Cleansers I, II, and III, with 12%, 15%, and 20% glycolic acids by M. D. Forte, retail for US $25, $28, and $30.
  • Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner by Dr. Brandt retails for US $45.00.
  • PurAcne Oxygen Purifying Gel by G. M. Collin retails for US $36.00 for 8 oz/240 ml.

Now let’s take a look at what makes these glycolic acid products work, or not.

[C] Renewal Double Renewal System

This pricy glycolic acid product provides a small amount of glycolic acid—about 3.6%, up to 30% may be beneficial—that is followed with small amount of a neutralizing agent that ensures there is no lasting irritation to the skin. For about $120 a treatment once or twice a week, it will lighten brown spots left when pimples heal in about two months. Unlike other Sothys products, it is fragrance-free and safe for allergy-prone skin.

Other products that works as well, however, cost over 75% less, such as the Neutrogena Advanced Solutions product mentioned below.

Acne Spot Treatment by Murad

Murad is one of the best known names in skin care. That does not guarantee all Murad products will work.

The Murad Acne Spot Treatment contains a tiny amount of glycolic acid for removing dead skin cells that can block pores from dry skin, plus about 1% salicylic acid for removing dead skin cells that can block pores from oily skin. The main active ingredient in the product, however, is sulfur.

Sulfur really does kill bacteria and relieve irritation, but none of the ingredients in the spot treatment stays on the skin to do any good. They are rinsed down the drain almost as soon as they are put on the skin.

Acne Wash by B. Kamins, Chemist

Acne Wash by B. Kamins, Chemist is unusual among products that claim to stop acne breakouts in that it actually stops acne breakouts. The main active ingredient in this formula is salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that helps open pores on either dry or oily skin. The product contains glycolic acid and lactic acid (fruit and milk acids, respectively) to buffer the other ingredients and to break down dead skin that isn’t stuck to the skin with oil.

There is just a little mint in this formula, enough to make it smell nice, but not enough to cause irritation. Still, it’s probably a good idea to be careful when using this product around the eyes. The longer you leave the product on your skin before your rinse—up to about 5 minutes—the more good it will do for your skin.

Advanced Solutions Complete Acne Therapy System (by Neutrogena)

Here is a combination of three products that only cost $24.99 that also actually work for treating acne and preventing breakouts. This Neutrogena acne therapy system has you start with a cleansing scrub. There is a tiny amount of glycolic acid and salicylic acid in the product, but it really works by the “scrubbing” action of tiny beads of polyethylene plastic in the foaming cleanser. These beads remove dead skin and hardened skin oil without scratching or cutting the skin.

The acne therapy system also offers a Sun Shield Day Lotion with SPF 15. The added benefit of this product is that it protects the skin with zinc oxide. The zinc in the formula helps reduce inflammation and irritation in the skin in addition to protecting the skin against mild sun for short periods. The only possible drawbacks to using this sunblock are that it’s really not strong enough for tropical or desert skin protection, and it can leave a slight white cast to the skin.

Finally, the Advanced Solutions Complete Acne Therapy System provides an overnight skin treatment that contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, and just the benzoyl peroxide, not a lot of additional ingredients that can irritate the skin. This is enough to kill acne bacteria without causing any irritation on most skin types. It is always a good idea, however, to test any acne product on your forearm before using it on your face. If it causes arm irritation, it will certainly cause face irritation, and you should be sure to take the product back for a refund.

Alpha Hydrox Foaming Face Wash

Here is a product that actually works at a bargain price. It strips off makeup without harming the skin, but because it contains alpha-hydroxy acids, including glycolic acid, it will also slowly get rid of browning and discoloration. Safe to use even on darker skin, this product only costs about $0.40 per use, compared to $120 for some other brands. The formula available in the USA may not actually contain glycolic acid, using citric acid instead, but works just as well as those that do.

Clear Skin Blemish Dissolver by Kinerase

Here is a product that contains the right amount of glycolic acid at the right pH to remove blemishes. Unfortunately, it also contains the right amount of lemon oil to cause them to return.

Clearskin Blemish Clearing Pads by Avon

Here is another product that contains the right amount of glycolic acid and salicylic acid at the right pH to exfoliate the skin and remove brown blemishes. This product contains so much alcohol, however, that it stimulates the production of sebum and causes new breakouts that make you constantly need to the product.

Facial Cleansers I, II, and III, with 12%, 15%, and 20% glycolic acids by M. D. Forte

Here are some products that won’t harm your skin. They just won’t do your skin any particular good, either, because the glycolic acid in the cleanser is almost immediately rinsed down the drain. Many much less expensive cleansers work just as well. Be sure not to splash any of these products into your eyes. They will burn.

Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner by Dr. Brandt

One of the lingering problems of successful acne treatment is enlarged pores, especially after removal of blackheads. There is no vacuum and not a lot of cleaner with Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner by Dr. Brandt. Instead, this product is a mask you apply to the skin. Like most facial masks, it is good for removing excess oil. It just won’t remove pores. If you want to conceal pores, use powder to create an even matte on your skin. It’s a lot less expensive, and it doesn’t contain any of the irritant ingredients in this mask, including alcohol and lavender oil.

PurAcne Oxygen Purifying Gel by G. M. Collin

Here is another product that offers glycolic and salicylic acids for exfoliating the skin in a form that gets rinsed down the drain before they have a chance to work. The rose, geranium, boldo, arnica, and chamomile extracts in the product, however, stick to skin and can cause skin irritation long after use.

In general, the glycolic acid products that work the best are also the least expensive. Acne treatment systems tend to be the easiest way to treat acne, including Exposed Skin Care.

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