Glycolic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid

With all of the different products available for exfoliating, which one should you choose? Many times when exfoliation is spoken about, Glycolic acid vs Salicylic acid is considered.

What is exfoliating?

According to, to exfoliate is to “separate and come off in scales, as scaling skin or any structure separating in flakes.” In other words, it is the removal of dead skin cells from our bodies. The idea is for the dead skin cells to flake away being replaced by healthier skin cells.

Reasons for exfoliation

While washing your face daily and often is important, many people may not realize the importance of exfoliating their skin as well. Here are several reasons that exfoliating should also be a part of your routine.

  • Aging causes skin cell regeneration to slow and dead skin cells to pile up
  • When dead skin cells pile up, your skin can become rough or dry, even dull
  • By removing old skin cells, moisturizers can penetrate the skin better and give a healthy glow to it
  • Helps to unclog pores and shrink them
  • Helps to speed up skin cell regeneration
  • Cleans up any oil or dirt build up on your skin
  • Lightens age spots and dark spots
  • Gives a healthy, smoother glow
  • Helps prevent acne breakouts
  • Can help even out your skin tone

It goes without saying that exfoliation should be part of your weekly skin washing routine. Another perk of exfoliation is that you do not have to perform it every day, it can be done effectively just a few times a week. Depending on your skin type, it can be done as often as three times a week for normal skin, and once a week for sensitive skin.

What exactly is Glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is what is called an AHA, meaning it is an alpha hydroxy acid. It is a water-soluble acid. Your skin or epidermis has multiple layers that make it up. An AHA removes the top layer of dead skin cells, but can also help to make the deeper layers of skin firmer and healthier, especially for older/aged skin.

Depending on your skin type, glycolic acid may be more beneficial to you than salicylic acid, although both chemicals will give the same end result to your skin.

Reasons to choose Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is a good chemical to use for your exfoliating routine. Glycolic acid should be your choice if any of the following apply to you and your skin type.

  • You have normal or dry skin, do not use if you have oily skin
  • You have dry or sun-damaged skin
  • You have wrinkles
  • You have age spots or dark spots
  • You have older, aged skin
  • You do NOT have sensitive skin

Side effects of Glycolic acid

As with most chemical products, glycolic acid does have some side effects that can occur. If any of these side effects occur, you should contact a medical professional for their opinion.

  • Can make your skin sensitive to sunlight, use of sunscreen is recommended after using an AHA
  • Mild skin irritation
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Discoloration of the treated area

When using glycolic acid in a cream or lotion form, it is best to use the type that says it has less than 10% glycolic acid in the ingredients. By following the instructions and using it properly, the possibility of any of the listed side effects can be lessened.

What exactly is Salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is what is known as a BHA, this means it is a beta hydroxy acid. It is an oil soluble acid where AHAs are not. Salicylic acid actually penetrates your skin’s pores where oil and dirt are found and helps break down the dead skin cells inside your pores. For this reason and the way it works, using a BHA on oily skin is recommended.

Reasons to choose Salicylic acid

Aside from salicylic acid also being a good choice for your exfoliation needs, here are some other reasons to choose it.

  • Works best for oily skin
  • Works best for younger skin
  • Better for sensitive skin
  • Good for acne prone skin
  • Works best for clogged pores
  • Helps clear and shrink pores

Remember that both glycolic acid and salicylic acid will give you the same results, so in the end, it’s best to proceed with caution when choosing one or the other. You may also want to check with a dermatologist if you have any concerns. Before choosing which product will work best for you, perform a small skin test before making your determination to avoid any side effects that could occur.

Side effects of Salicylic acid

Any chemical applied to the skin can have side effects, and salicylic acid is no different even if it is applied in creams and lotions. If any of these side effects occur, you should contact a medical professional for their opinion. A quick note of caution: any products containing a BHA should not be used on children or infants.

  • Skin irritation
  • Stinging sensation
  • Sunlight sensitivity
  • Skin rash
  • Could dry out skin if used too often

Doing a little research before you choose either an AHA product or a BHA product can prove to be useful to you. With the proper use of a BHA and reading the instructions on the product you choose, many of the listed side effects can be avoided.

Glycolic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid

Keep in mind that both of these items are chemicals, and should be used with caution. Each of them offers the same attributes for exfoliation, but they often perform differently for each individual depending on skin type. Due to their skin types, some people can use one but not the other without side effects.

There are a few different skin types and many people are unaware of what type they have. These include oily, dry, normal or combination skin. If you are unsure of your exact skin type, it can be beneficial to contact a dermatologist for their medical opinion before deciding whether to use products containing AHA or BHA.