Glycolic vs. Salicylic Acids - Which One Is Right for You?

October 30, 2017

Glycolic vs. Salicylic Acids - Which One Is Right for You?

Any time we start discussing the best ways to exfoliate the skin, it’s not long before the ingredients glycolic acid and salicylic acid come up. Glycolic acid is an AHA, or alpha-hydroxy acid, and salicylic acid is a BHA, or beta-hydroxy acid. Both of them work extremely well at making skin look more even, brighter and refreshed.

But which one is right for your skin?

Both ingredients work as chemical exfoliators that loosen the “glue-like” substance that holds our skin cells together.  This allows dead skin cells to slough off more easily revealing smoother, healthier skin and keeping pores from becoming blocked.

How they work varies a bit though, that’s why the decision to use glycolic acid versus salicylic acid really depends on what type of skin you have…

Because glycolic acid is the AHA with the smallest molecule, it penetrates the skin more deeply and easily than other acids. That means it is more effective at the things we need it to do like exfoliate, improve fine lines and stimulate the production of collagen and elastin. Glycolic acid is best for sun-damaged, mature, and dry skin…helping to reduce the signs of premature aging and rejuvenating the skin but it can also be an effective acne treatment. Because it releases and dissolves blackheads and minimizing the appearance of pores, it can also be an effective acne treatment, It works particularly well on cystic acne, which is caused by deep blockages of dead skin and sebum.

On the other end of the spectrum, salicylic acid is better for those with oily, acne-prone skin or those with sensitive skin.

The reason is, salicylic acid gets through oil that clogs pores. It is the only acid that can penetrate oil, because it is fat-soluble. All other acids are water-soluble. Thanks to this property, it can reach *inside* a pore and exfoliate the lining of the pore wall. This loosens and allows the contents of the pore to flow out more freely. It not only clears existing blackheads but also prevents new ones from forming, improving the lining of larger pores that can be more prone to acne.  Another plus, this acid has anti-inflammatory and mildly anti-bacterial action – both of which are great for oily, acneic skin. All-in-all, salicylic acid is a great exfoliator that can improve skin thickness, improve barrier function and stimulate collagen production.

There are a range of over the counter products available. Cleansers can be left on for a few minutes and washed off so they are great for sensitive skins while wipes, toners and lotions that can be left on all day or night yield excellent results with consistent use. The newest additions to our product selection are Paradise Dermatology Acne Wash and Acne Pads. Formulated with 5% glycolic and 2% salicyclic acid, these products are an effective and affordable solution for tween, adolescent and adult patients. We’ve already gotten some great feedback from patients!

Hopefully now you have a better idea of which of these acids is right for your skin. Whichever you choose to use, the key to optimizing skin health is seeing a skin care professional. By combining a customized at-home regimen with powerful in office treatments and targeted solutions, the result is healthier, skin with visible improvement in acne, congestion, fine lines, wrinkles and other signs of aging.