Glycolic Acid or Salicylic Acid — Which is better?

Posted on August 29, 2018 by Joessa Montealto | 2 comments

Glycolic acid and Salicylic acid are chemical exfoliators that both make your skin look smoother, brighter and ultimately, younger. But which of these two is better for the skin? Let’s get to know each of these wonderful ingredients and find out who the real winner is.

Woman Thinking Which Exfoliator Is Better For Her Skin

Glycolic Acid, What is It?

Glycolic acid is an AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid). Although the word “acid” makes it sound like it’s fully synthesized in the lab, glycolic acid actually occurs naturally in beets, sugar cane and pineapples. Alpha Hydroxy Acids like Glycolic Acid are water-soluble and they mainly help in the exfoliation of the topmost layers of the skin.
Glycolic Acid Benefits

Out of all other AHAs, Glycolic Acid has the smallest molecules. These molecules penetrate your skin in a much deeper level which makes Glycolic Acid a really good skin exfoliator compared to other AHAs. This powerful exfoliation process encourages skin cell turnover thus generating an overall better skin texture: scars and hyperpigmentations will fade and be less noticeable, and surface wrinkles and fine lines will be fended off by the constant production new face skin cells.

Glycolic Acid Use

Skincare products use different concentrations of Glycolic Acid. It goes from 5 to 30% and the higher the concentration is, the more potent the products are. For beginners, it is best to use products with a lower concentration and eventually build up its use over time. This way, your skin will become more accustomed to the strengths of the Glycolic Acid and will show lesser irritation. Also, note that all AHAs increases our skin’s photosensitivity! This means that when you use Glycolic Acid or any other AHA, your skin will be extremely sensitive to the UV rays of the sun, and even your indoor fluorescent light!

AHAs make us more prone to sun damage. Protect yourself by wearing enough sunscreen.

Stack up the Sunscreen
To prevent skin damage once you’re using an AHA, don’t forget to wear sunscreen. This sensitivity will remain even after 7 days of using an AHA so do your skin a favor and always, always wear sunscreen. If you don’t, you may end up damaging your skin even more than before using the AHA.
Read more: What Happens When You Get Sunburned?

Salicylic Acid, What is It?

Salicylic acid is a BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid). Like, Glycolic Acid, this wonder ingredient is also derived naturally from the bark of the willow tree. However, unlike AHAs which are water-soluble, Beta Hydroxy Acids are oil-soluble. This gives BHAs like Salicylic Acid the ability to penetrate deeper into the skin surface. This way, they only lightly exfoliate the topmost layer of the skin as they make their way deeper into the pores where they exfoliate unwanted excess oil and dead skin cells.
Salicylic Acid Benefits

The light surface exfoliation improves overall skin texture while the deeper penetration action effectively treats the biggest skin acne problems such as whiteheads, blackheads and deeper cystic acne.

Aside from that, this powerful compound also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that greatly helps in maintaining and keeping your skin acne-free even in the future.

Salicylic Acid Use
Skincare products also have varying concentrations of Salicylic Acid in them. They go from 1 up to 10% but it is best used at lower concentrations as higher concentrations do not necessarily show extra results. Using BHAs will not make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays so it is perfectly safe to go out even if you forgot the sunscreen. However, it is not advised to use Salicylic Acid or any BHA if you’re pregnant. Studies show that oral use of this acid lead to certain birth defects and it is best to shelf away topical BHA products for your child’s safety.
Read More: How to Use a Salicylic Acid Face Peel

Glycolic Acid or Salicylic Acid? Which Should I Use?

For acne problems, it is best to use BHAs like the Glycolic Acid.

Glycolic and Salicylic Acid are both trusted chemical exfoliators and they work wonders for the different needs of our skin. This is why it is still best to use both accordingly to your skin type and your skin’s current concerns. Glycolic Acid and other AHAs are definitely good for dry, sun-damaged or aging skin. Using AHAs will hydrate skin as well as increase new skin cell production which will give way to younger, glowing skin. Salicylic Acid or other BHAs are best for oily and acne-prone skin. It will deeply exfoliate down to the pores and get rid of the oils and dirt that manual exfoliation can’t do. If you also have sensitive skin that can’t tolerate AHAs, you can definitely try this to get smoother and clearer skin.

Can I use Both?

Yes, you can certainly use both but not at the same time! Using them in combination will help you deal with a wider range of skin issues since they penetrate and act at different levels of the skin. However, still know that both ingredients are very potent and using them consecutively can over exfoliate your skin and lead to even more skin damage. If you want to add both in your skincare routine, it is best to use one for a few weeks and then alternate to the second acid for the next few weeks. This way you can observe how your skin reacts and identify which of your skin concerns gets resolved by each.

Know Your Skin

Find out your skin issues and use the right acid depending on how your skin is feeling that day or week. If you’re skin could use some extra hydration, use a Glycolic Acid. If you see a pimple forming on your cheek, spot treat it with a dab of Salicylic Acid.

Make sure that you don’t over exfoliate! Read your product’s application instructions and pay extra attention to your skin once you alternate between the two acids. Aside from the usual peeling, stinging or redness, a sure-fire sign of too much exfoliation is a tight feeling of the skin no matter how much moisturizer you put on. Once you feel this, stop exfoliating and focus on repairing your skin by moisturizing it and giving it the time to rest and heal. Chemical exfoliation with AHAs and BHAs are good for the skin but too much of something good also leads to bad things so always keep in mind to use these products in moderation and you will have nothing to worry about.

What’s Best for My Skin Problems?

Still not sure which one you should use for your skin concerns? Let’s take a look at some of the most common skin issues and learn more on how both or either acid treat these pesky skin problems.

Pimples, Milia, Whiteheads, or Blackheads
Salicylic acid, but you can also use it in combination with Glycolic Acid for a more thorough treatment. Using Salicylic Acid is recommended for pimples, blackheads and whiteheads since it penetrates deeper down into the pores, targeting acne problems at its source. Although Glycolic Acid doesn’t do as much for the deeper layers, it is a very potent exfoliator which will definitely transform the appearance and texture of the acne-ridden topmost layers of the skin. Combining both Glycolic and Salicylic Acid will target a greater range of skin layers, from the surface to the pore level, and will definitely give better results. In fact, a study showed significant acne improvements in people who used both Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid in their skincare routine. Their acne severity significantly reduced over the course of six weeks and results also showed that the patient’s skin had excellent tolerability for the products which definitely improves the treatment outcome.
Read More: The Top 5 Acne Culprits
AHAs like Glycolic Acid work best in erasing wrinkles and fine lines.
Wrinkles, Crow’s Feet, or Fine Lines
For skin-aging problems, Glycolic Acid is the best answer. Using chemical peels with Glycolic Acid will erase all signs of skin-aging such as fine lines and wrinkles because this ingredient encourages collagen synthesis in the skin as it exfoliates away all the dead cells on the skin’s upper layers. As we age, collagen production decreases and this is why the skin loses its tightness, giving way for the unwanted wrinkles and fine lines to show permanently especially on the face. Increasing collagen production via the use of the Glycolic Acid Peel will definitely give you younger, smoother skin.
Read More: Say Goodbye to Fine Lines with These Top 5 Tips
Melasma, Dark Spots, or Acne Scars
Glycolic Acid is best for hyperpigmentation problems. Using Glycolic Acid for hyperpigmentation problems that come from sun damage or acne will definitely give you glowing and much more even skin tone as it will effectively exfoliate the upper layers of the skin where these unwanted melanin sit. A study even shows that patients with melasma who were treated with Glycolic Acid peels showed earlier and drastic improvements than those who were not treated.
Read More: Hyperpigmentation: Causes and Treatments
Warts or Keratosis Pilaris (KP)

A good combination of both Glycolic and Salicylic Acid will reduce if not entirely remove benign face growths such as warts and keratosis pilaris. A balanced combo of these chemical peels will help with multi-level skin exfoliation getting rid of stubborn face growths. Glycolic acid will exfoliate the top layers of your skin while salicylic acid will treat the deeper buildup the in the follicles.


Have you tried Salicylic Acid or Glycolic Acid? Which one is best for your skin? Let us know in the comments below!



2 Responses


August 31, 2018

I have pretty average skin, but, of course with age I have my share of fine lines and wrinkles. I love face masks and Glycolic Acid, I have used for a number of years and have seen great benefits on my face as far as keeping it youthful.
I have never tried a Salicylic Acid, but, I just might do so after reading this blog.

I have been using Yeouth products now for over a year and love them. I notice a difference in my skin. I have always taken care of my skin and Yeouth is one of the best skin line products I have ever used.

I just turned 75 and I am proud of my skin.

Joanne Curtis


August 31, 2018

This is one of the most helpful articles I have read regarding these acid peels. My pores are big and usually clogged, but I also have some age spots and lines around my eyes. I had just the glycolic acid in my cart. But now after reading this I am going to get both products. Thanks for the excellent info!

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