Why glycolic acid isn't used in the best natural skin care

24 August 2017

Glycolic acid is part of the group of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). We're also always reading that using glycolic acid skin care products will improve skin, make it look brighter, younger, fade hyperpigmentation, reduce sun damage and wrinkles.

But is what really happens?

Glycolic acid has been used in skin care products for enough years now that if this were true, there would be many, many people showing off skin with the above results.

But there aren’t. Instead, the many, many people who’ve used glycolic acids over that timer end up seeking cosmetic rejuvenation as they age (face lifts, laser peels etc) because their skin care products didn’t deliver what they promised in the long term.

This is why glycolic acid isn’t used in the best natural skin care.

As is so often the case with these harsh ingredients there is an initial improvement for skin, but after a short time skin reverts to the way it was before, usually worse for the experience.

Can glycolic acid improve skin?

Let’s look at some facts about glycolic acid and whether or not it can improve skin for more than just a few weeks or months.

Glycolic acid is an industrial chemical cleaner

Glycolic acid has the chemical structure C2H4O3 and is the smallest alpha hydroxy acid. ‘Smallest’ means it has the smallest molecules in the AHA group and so is able to penetrate skin easily and deeply.

Like all AHAs glycolic acid is harsh.

So harsh, that it’s is the industrial go-to chemical cleaner for metal, aluminium and copper. Industry also loves glycolic acid because it rapidly dissolves buildup of calcium carbonate and iron oxide scales.

And the tanning and dyeing industries are another major user of the several million kilograms of glycolic acid made each year. 5

Glycolic acid is a strong irritant depending on pH. Like ethylene glycol, it is metabolized to oxalic acid, which makes it dangerous if ingested.

Does glycolic acid improve skin

Glycolic acid is also used in many skin care formulations for its recognised main effect which is to weaken the binding properties of skin cells. For all that's written about the beneficial effect this has for skin, in fact, glycolic acid is merely a cheap exfoliator.

Using it has no regenerative effect whatsoever for skin.

The concentrations at which AHAs have the most 'visible' effect is at concentrations allowed to be used by licensed medical practitioners only. Because of government restrictions, over the counter creams are allowed to contain just a fraction of this amount. 

What else aren't we told about glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is made from formaldehyde 

Every skin care brand that uses glycolic acid claims it’s made from sugar cane.
Every article written about glycolic acid in skin care states that it’s made from sugar cane.

But in fact glycolic acid is made from formaldehyde.

Glycolic acid can be isolated in small amounts from some fruits, but this is not a typical method of production.(1) Remember, as stated above, that several million kilograms of glycolic acid are made each year worldwide. Whether it’s used as an industrial chemical cleaner or a skin care ingredient, glycolic acid is produced in the cheapest way possible.

The original method to prepare glycolic acid was to extract an acid from horse urine (heppuric acid) and react this with nitric acid and nitrogen dioxide. The resulting compound was then boiled in sulphuric acid. 

No longer so - these days glycolic acid is prepared from formaldehyde as this is the cheapest available method.

Negative effects of using glycolic acid on skin

The concentrations at which AHAs such as glycolic acid have the most 'visible' effect is at concentrations allowed to be used by licensed medical practitioners only. Because of government restrictions, over the counter creams are allowed to contain just a fraction of this amount.

Using alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid can make some people’s skin extra sensitive to sunlight. One study showed glycolic acid increased the sensitivity of human skin to sunburn by up to 50% in some individuals. Warnings are always given to use a sunscreen while using alpha hydroxy acid products.

Doctors warn of side effects from using alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid.

Web MD cautions that using AHAs '...can also cause mild skin irritation, redness, swelling, itching, and skin discolouration. Facial peels, lotions, and creams with a concentration greater than 10% should only be used under the supervision of a dermatologist. Facial peels can cause moderate to severe skin irritation, redness, and burning. Facial peels left on the skin for periods longer than recommended can cause severe burns to the skin.'

Glycolic acid damages skin

We constantly read variations of this: ‘glycolic acid takes off the top layer of skin and stimulates collagen production to ‘plump up’ the new skin underneath’. 

What we rarely read about is that the long term effects of breaking the skin cells include chronic levels of inflammation, thread veins  and blotchy discolouration.’

Simplicité strives to achieve the opposite. 

Our fresh, active products are designed to increase the bonds within the skin to restore firmness and a youthful complexion. Simplicité uses deep exfoliators and nutrient-rich compounds made from an enzyme-active mix of ALMONDS, LINSEED and ADZUKI beans, or ROSEHIP and CLIVERS extracts, or CINNAMON and BIRCH extracts. These are expensive and time-consuming to prepare.

Why we don't use glycolic acid

As we said earlier, glycolic acid is not used in the best natural skin care. 

At Simplicite Skin Care we avoid glycolic acid, purely for skin health reasons. 

Short term apparent gains in appearance are not worth subjecting the skin to chemicals used on an industrial scale and made in China to questionable standards of quality.

We wish our conscience would allow us to use a pre-made industrial acid on human skin.

We'd save a fortune in time and money. Glycolic acid costs around $2 to 3 per kg – in contrast, the medicinal-grade plant ingredients that Simplicité chooses to use cost between $80 and $460, and more, per kg.

The rejuvenating alternatives to glycolic acid

Try these products that will create a healthier, youthful complexion:

Rehydration Serum (or other serum)

Exfoliating Face Treatment - 4 or 5 days per week

One Step Exfoliating Cleanser - 3 or 4 days per week

Rosehip & Lavender Complexion Refiner - 2 or 3 days per week

plus the nutritive Moisturisers and deeply hydrating Face Oils to suit your skin type.

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