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Can Glycolic Acid harm your skin?

24 August 2017

Glycolic Acid has become a go-to anti-ageing skincare ingredient in recent years.

It’s often found in moisturisers and peels with labels that promise to brighten skin, fade hyperpigmentation, reverse sun damage and reduce wrinkles.

But you won’t find Glycolic Acid in the best natural skincare products and that’s because it’s a harsh ingredient without lasting benefits.

How harsh, you ask?

Glycolic Acid is an industrial chemical cleaner

Big industry loves Glycolic Acid because it rapidly dissolves the build-up of calcium carbonate and iron oxide scales on commercial machinery.

Think of the calcium build-up on the inside of your kettle but on an industrial scale.

But it’s in so many skin care ranges, it must be good for skin …

The leather industry would agree that it is good for skin.

They use Glycolic Acid for tanning and dyeing their hides.


Chinese merchant site sells industrial strength Glycolic Acid

Glycolic Acid, with the chemical structure C2H4O3, has the smallest molecules of all the Alpha Hydroxy Acids, so it’s able to penetrate skin easily and deeply.

But what it does there is it weakens the skin’s cellular bonds, hence its popularity in the leather industry.

So although skincare users might find an initial improvement to their skin’s texture after using Glycolic Acid, the improvement isn’t lasting.

The economy of acid production

Worldwide, Glycolic Acid is produced on a massive scale. Several million kilograms are manufactured each year to meet the demand for its commercial applications.

Whether it’s for descaling an industrial vat or treating hyperpigmentation, one thing is certain: Glycolic Acid is produced using the cheapest methods possible.

Many skin care brands and articles claim Glycolic Acid is made from sugar cane.

While it is true that small amounts of Glycolic Acid can be isolated in some fruits, this is not a typical method of production due to the expense involved.

Typically, Glycolic Acid is made from formaldehyde – the same chemical that funeral homes and medical school laboratories use to preserve dead bodies.

The other acids used in skin care

Glycolic Acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), a group of acids which includes Lactic acid, another common skincare ingredient.

Then there is Salicylic Acid (a Beta Hydroxy Acid), and Ascorbic Acid (synthesised vitamin C) and its derivatives, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, Ascorbyl Palmitate etc.

It should be hard to sell acid as skincare, but somehow the marketing of AHAs and others acids makes them sound good enough to eat.

Commonly you will hear reassurances that Lactic Acid is found in milk, Salicylic Acid comes from the bark of a willow, and Ascorbic Acid from citrus fruit.

But the harsh, unpublicised reality is that Lactic Acid is produced in factories from chalk.

Salicylic Acid is artificially synthesised in concentrations nature wouldn’t recognise (it’s the active ingredient in wart remover.)

Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in wart remover
Wart remover's active ingredient is Salicylic Acid 

And Ascorbic Acid (synthesised Vitamin C) has nothing to do with oranges or any other citrus fruit.

Ascorbic Acid is made by fermenting glucose in pollution-pumping chemical plants in China and India and then shipped world-wide in drums of dried crystals.

Ascorbic acid is made in polluting Chinese factories
Pollution-pumping chemical plants in China 

Not a dairy nor an orchard in sight.

Meanwhile, industrial scientists are working all the time to improve the economic production of these acids, experimenting with bacteria closely related to E. coli, salmonella and a lesser known strain that causes diphtheria.

It’s literally sickening.

Glycolic Acid (and any acid's) effect on skin

The main thing Glycolic Acid does well is it weakens the binding properties of skin cells (hence its popularity in the leather industry where hides are fashioned into products).

AHAs and acids in general can appear to produce a temporary improvement in the condition of skin or the reduction of fine lines.

But the long-term result is skin that appears to have lost elasticity.

Think of a bee sting or a green-ant bite.

Ascorbic Acid and Alpha Hydroxy Acids cause a mild skin puffing, similar to a bee sting
A bee sting causes mild skin swelling

Each of these insects injects a small amount of formic acid under the skin, resulting in mild swelling. Similarly, AHAs and other acids cause a mild puffiness which appears to tighten the skin, but the effect does not last.

In fact, their application exposes users to other dangers.

AHAs, such as Glycolic Acid, and other synthetic acids can make some people’s skin extra sensitive to sunlight – by as much as 50% in some individuals. That's why you will often see warnings to wear sunscreen while using AHAs. 

Doctors also warn of the side effects from using AHAs in moisturisers and peels. These can range from mild skin irritation to skin discolouration (hyperpigmentation) and severe burns.

Why Simplicité does not use Glycolic Acid

Simplicité products are designed to increase the bonds within the skin and to restore firmness and a youthful complexion without harsh ingredients.

We use exfoliators and nutrient-rich compounds made from an enzyme-active mix of almonds, linseed and adzuki beans, or rosehip, cinnamon and birch extracts. 

Simplicité rejects the use of Glycolic Acid, due to the damaging effect it has on the skin. 

It is an ethical stand we take at our own expense.

Glycolic Acid costs about $2.50 per kilogram while the medicinal-grade plant ingredients Simplicité uses cost between $80 and $460 per kilogram and sometimes more.

Financially, it would make sense for us to use cheap ingredients, but ethically, our conscience would not allow us to use an industrial acid on human skin. 

Rejuvenating alternatives to Glycolic Acid

Luckily, our products are formulated to create a healthier, youthful complexion without harsh ingredients. Try some of the following for a lasting improvement:

Rejuvenating alternatives to Glycolic Acid
Some rejuvenating alternatives to Glycolic Acid

A better alternative to Ascorbic Acid

Compounds in premium quality citrus essential oils have been shown to have remarkable skin rejuvenation properties, including increased firmness and a reduction of pores and fine lines. And, naturally, they give a radiance to complexions.

If you are looking for an effective Vitamin C serum with proven results, look no further than our Results Lift Gel. This contains the highest levels of real Vtamin C extracted from organic dried rosehips (the fruit of the rose), plus anti-ageing retinoic acid extracted from rosehip seeds. These are powerful, active antioxidants.

Simplicité’s Lemon Night Creme contains medicinal-grade extracts from whole lemons, grapefruits, lemongrass, and sweet oranges. Our extracts are made by hand from whole plants. There is nothing lifeless, powdered, or commercial about our ingredients.

Lemon Night Creme is rich in medicinal quality citrus extracts
Lemon Night Creme 

Our Lemon Myrtle Citral Terpenoid Firming Mask peels off to instantly improve skin texture and tone. It contains Australian lemon myrtle leaf, which is rich in citral compounds to reduce the effects of premature ageing due to sun damage. Lemon balm has anti-skin-cancer properties and Linden blossoms soothe skin irritations and inflammation.

What is your experience with acids in skin care?

Please leave your comments below.

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