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How To Pair Your Favorite Skincare Ingredients With Glycolic Acid

Find out what ingredients you can pair with glycolic acid!
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In skin care, there are a few things as challenging as mixing actives. In the lack of knowledge, pairing unsuitable actives can deactivate them, rendering your products ineffective or can cause sensitivities. And this applies especially to the most potent compound of the alpha-hydroxy acids family, glycolic acid.

Due to its small molecular size, glycolic acid can penetrate the skin, producing changes at a cellular level while also sloughing off the buildup of dead cells on the skin’s surface, leading to an even tone, smooth skin, and increased radiance. Moreover, due to its ability to induce collagen and hyaluronic acid production, glycolic acid is able to reverse photoaging, making fine lines less noticeable, firming and thickening skin.[1]

So, if maintaining your skin’s glow is top of mind, read on to learn what to pair with glycolic acid to get the benefits without the drama. 

Pair glycolic acid with niacinamide for increased tolerance

Niacinamide is a gentle compound that increases moisture retention and reinforces the protective barrier due to its ability to produce more ceramides within the skin.[2] And how glycolic acid is known to eventually trigger dryness and irritation in reactive complexions, pairing it with a barrier strengthening active, like niacinamide, is an excellent way to prevent unwanted outcomes.

So, can you use niacinamide and glycolic acid together? You can, but you shouldn’t layer them together; instead, use them alternatively. Niacinamide should be formulated at a pH of 5.0-6.0 to work effectively, while glycolic acid requires an acidic pH of 3.5 or less, and mixing them may disturb their pH, reducing effectiveness.

As such, the best way to use niacinamide and glycolic acid together is by alternating them: apply niacinamide serum at AM, and leave the glycolic acid product for PM use. This allows your skin to reinforce during the day and be ready for your glycolic acid product, be it a serum, moisturizer, or peeling in the evening. In addition to prepping your skin for glycolic acid, pairing this duo also helps reduce the look of large pores, fades dark spots, softens fine lines, and tackles acne.

Pair resveratrol with glycolic acid to improve uneven skin tone

You’re probably no stranger to resveratrol, the multi-duty antioxidant that hinders the apparition of dark spots by scavenging free radicals while inhibiting tyrosinase activity, the key enzyme in melanin (skin pigment) production. As such, resveratrol is a go-to for uneven tone, and if paired with glycolic acid, you’ve got yourself a potent treatment for fading dark spots.[3] In addition, glycolic acid and resveratrol help with collagen production, so having them in your routine promises bouncy, firm skin.

Since both resveratrol and glycolic acid are vulnerable to light, use them in your PM regimen. To use these actives together, apply a resveratrol serum, followed by a glycolic acid moisturizer before you hit the hay.

Pair retinol with glycolic acid to ward off aging signs

Using retinol and glycolic acid together is an excellent way to tackle aging signs, including fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and dehydration. While retinol encourages cell turnover to reveal smoother, evener skin, glycolic acid exfoliates dead cell buildup and speeds up cell turnover, complementing each other. Also, both retinol and glycolic acid boost collagen production, increasing moisture retention and firming skin.

Yet, because these two have a similar site of action, there’s a chance for irritation if mixed. As such, the best way to use retinol and glycolic acid is by using them on alternative nights — yes, both glycolic acid and retinol should be applied at night. The former may make the skin photosensitive, and the latter may lead to oxidative degradation of lipids, like ceramides and cholesterol, damaging the skin and can generate free radicals when in contact with UV.[4][5]

Bonus: Alternating retinol and glycolic acid helps reduce acne scarring.[6]

Pair azelaic acid with glycolic acid to reduce breakouts

Azelaic acid is a gentle acid (not an AHA nor a BHA) used in skincare as a mild exfoliant with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits. For this reason, azelaic acid is often recommended by derms for acne. And it turns out that pairing azelaic acid with glycolic acid is an excellent way to manage acne. Actually, research points out that applying azelaic acid and glycolic acid has benefits similar to tretinoin for acne and is considered a more tolerant alternative.[7] And if it wasn’t enough, pairing glycolic acid and azelaic acid makes a winning duo that promises to fade post-acne marks — the effect is similar to that of using a 4% hydroquinone cream.[8]

Pair hyaluronic acid with glycolic acid for a burst of hydration

Using hyaluronic acid and glycolic acid together results in an array of skincare benefits. First of all, both have humectant benefits, meaning they attract water molecules from the environment into the skin, replenishing water levels. Since dehydration results from skin losing more water than it takes, pairing hyaluronic acid and glycolic acid is one sure way to quench your complexion. More than that, mixing these two decreases the chances of experiencing redness and irritation, often associated with glycolic acid use. As a matter of fact, a study found that using a hyaluronic acid cream following glycolic acid peel helps skin recover faster by strengthening the protective barrier and thickening skin.[9]

Pair vitamin C with glycolic acid to fight the loss of firmness

Using vitamin C and glycolic acid together is your ticket to firm, elastic, and bright skin. Since both are great at enhancing collagen production, they clear the path to plumper, bouncier and evener skin when used in tandem. However, you shouldn’t mix the two as they can alter your skin’s pH and disrupt the barrier. Because vitamin C is an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals to protect your skin against oxidative stress, you want to apply it in the morning and leave your glycolic acid product for your PM routine.

What not to pair with glycolic acid

While glycolic acid can be mixed with almost any skincare ingredient, you should steer clear from using it together with other exfoliants like salicylic acid or drying actives such as benzoyl peroxide. Nonetheless, you can use them alternatively, so you don’t risk over-exfoliating your skin.


Sources

Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

References
  1. Kornhauser A, Coelho SG, Hearing VJ. Applications of hydroxy acids: classification, mechanisms, and photoactivity. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2010 Nov 24, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3047947/
  2. Tanno O, Ota Y, Kitamura N, Katsube T, Inoue S. Nicotinamide increases biosynthesis of ceramides as well as other stratum corneum lipids to improve the epidermal permeability barrier. Br J Dermatol. 2000 Sep, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10971324/
  3. Jo DJ, Seok JK, Kim SY, Park W, Baek JH, Kim YM, Boo YC. Human skin-depigmenting effects of resveratryl triglycolate, a hybrid compound of resveratrol and glycolic acid. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2018 Apr 16, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29663438/
  4. Kaidbey K, Sutherland B, Bennett P, Wamer WG, Barton C, Dennis D, Kornhauser A. Topical glycolic acid enhances photodamage by ultraviolet light. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2003 Feb, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12713551/
  5. Tolleson WH, Cherng SH, Xia Q, Boudreau M, Yin JJ, Wamer WG, Howard PC, Yu H, Fu PP. Photodecomposition and phototoxicity of natural retinoids. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2005 Apr, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3814709/
  6. Chandrashekar BS, Ashwini KR, Vasanth V, Navale S. Retinoic acid and glycolic acid combination in the treatment of acne scars. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2015 Mar-Apr, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375771/
  7. Spellman MC, Pincus SH. Efficacy and safety of azelaic acid and glycolic acid combination therapy compared with tretinoin therapy for acne. Clin Ther. 1998 Jul-Aug, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9737831/
  8. Kakita LS, Lowe NJ. Azelaic acid and glycolic acid combination therapy for facial hyperpigmentation in darker-skinned patients: a clinical comparison with hydroquinone. Clin Ther. 1998 Sep-Oct, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9829447/
  9. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Clinical (in vivo) and histochemical (ex vivo) study of the regenerative skin response to a cream containing low molecular weight hyaluronic acid and hibiscus after 70% glycolic acid peels, https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(15)01145-7/fulltext
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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Women's Concepts relies on the latest scientific research to provide accurate, complete, and fact-based information in skincare, on which we're willing to stake our reputation. Our team includes skincare experts who are highly regarded in their fields and committed to upholding the best standards of research. We spend quality time vetting every single product we recommend and double-checking all the facts shared on Women's Concepts. We always stand on the side of inclusivity, and our mission is to help everyone fix their skin issues as they arise and leverage the products they buy to achieve their goals. You can view our expert review board and everything about our editorial guidelines here.
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