Glycolic acid
Glycolic acid


Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). Alpha hydroxy acids are natural acids found in foods. Glycolic acid comes from sugarcane.

Alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid work by removing the top layers of dead skin cells. Glycolic acid also seems to help reverse sun damage to the skin.

People use glycolic acid for acne, aging skin, dark skin patches on the face, and acne scars. It is also used for stretch marks and other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these other uses.

Don't confuse glycolic acid with other alpha hydroxy acids, including citric acid, lactic acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid. These are not the same.
When taken by mouth: There isn't enough reliable information to know if glycolic acid is safe or what the side effects might be.

When applied to the skin: Glycolic acid is likely safe when used in products containing concentrations of 10% glycolic acid or less. But it is possibly unsafe when used in products containing higher concentrations. Concentrations of greater than 10% glycolic acid should only be used while under the care of a dermatologist. Using high concentration products inappropriately can cause serious skin reactions.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Glycolic acid is likely safe when applied to the skin appropriately while pregnant or breast-feeding. But there isn't enough reliable information to know if glycolic acid is safe to use by mouth. Stay on the safe side and stick to topical products.

Sensitive skin: Glycolic acid can cause skin irritation and make certain skin conditions worse. Use cautiously in people with sensitive skin.


NatMed Pro rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
Likely effective Effectiveness definitions
Possibly effective Effectiveness definitions
  • Acne. Applying glycolic acid to the skin seems to help reduce acne in people 12 years and older who have mild to moderate acne.
  • Aging skin. Applying glycolic acid to the skin seems to reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging and sun damage.
  • Acne scars. Applying glycolic acid to the skin, alone or together with microneedling, seems to reduce acne scars.
  • Dark skin patches on the face (melasma). Applying glycolic acid to the skin, alone or together with other treatments, seems to reduce mixed-type and epidermal-type melasma. But it doesn't seem to help dermal-type melasma, which occurs in a deeper layer of the skin.
There is interest in using glycolic acid for a number of other purposes, but there isn't enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.
Likely ineffective Effectiveness definitions
Possibly ineffective Effectiveness definitions
Insufficient evidence Effectiveness definitions

Dosing & administration

Glycolic acid has most often been applied to the skin by adults in lotions and creams containing glycolic acid 10% to 15% once or twice daily for up to 4 months. Short facial peels have also been used under the supervision of a healthcare provider. Speak with a healthcare provider to find out what type of product and concentration might be best for a specific condition.

Interactions with pharmaceuticals

It is not known if Glycolic Acid interacts with any medicines. Before taking Glycolic Acid, talk with your healthcare professional if you take any medications.

Interactions with herbs & supplements

There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

Interactions with foods

There are no known interactions with foods. has licensed monographs from TRC Healthcare.
This monograph was last reviewed on 31/01/2024 11:00:00. Monographs are reviewed and/or updated multiple times per month and at least once per year.
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