Skin cells slough off daily to expose fresh new skin that can better protect the internal organs and regulate body temperature. When the dead skins cells don't follow a natural course of regeneration, they sometimes need a little help. Cleansers made with exfoliating substances such as glycolic acid can help the process along.
Glycolic acid is a hydroxy acid developed to assist the skin's natural exfoliation process. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the disruption of cells that results in dead skin sloughing decreases with age. When they remain on your body, dead skin cells can lead to a sallow and rough appearance that makes you look older.
Hydroxy acids are added to cleansers and moisturizers, and are also used in cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels, in which a stronger solution of glycolic acid is applied to the skin to remove damaged skin that often occurs following acne breakouts or extensive sun damage. A glycolic chemical peel may be able to reduce the appearance of fine lines and even out skin that has become discolored. Many facial cleansers designed to treat acne flare-ups also contain glycolic acid.
Using facial cleansers containing glycolic acid may help your skin feel softer and look smoother, reducing the signs of aging and sun damage. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most exfoliating cleansers and moisturizers are safe to use every day. Glycolic acid is a natural substance that comes from sugar cane.
Most over-the-counter facial cleansers and creams made with glycolic acid use a synthetic version of the natural fruit chemical. In addition to removing dead skin cells, alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid and glycolic acid may help to reduce swelling caused by acne and excess oil production, and may also stimulate new skin growth that eventually leads to a smoother appearance and fewer blemishes.
While glycolic acid is generally safe for daily use, the chemical may cause an allergic reaction and lead to rashes or other skin irritations. Allergic contact dermatitis can lead to blisters, redness, itching and swelling. Infections can form if you scratch the itchy patches and pass bacteria to the underlying epidermis. The skin can usually withstand irritations from chemicals in cosmetics, but not when these chemicals are applied to open wounds. Common side effects of glycolic acid include skin irritation and mild stinging that usually subsides shortly after use.