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What is Glycolic Acid and Where does it come from?

What is Glycolic Acid and Where does it come from?

The Rx Systems PF line is a true system of skincare products built around the benefits of Glycolic Acid.  So just what is Glycolic Acid and what can it do for you skin?

What is Glycolic Acid?

Definition: An alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugar cane.  Alpha hydroxy acids occur naturally in certain fruits and foods. For example:

  • Glycolic acid from sugar cane
  • Citric acid from citrus fruit
  • Malic acid from apples
  • Tartaric acid from grapes
  • Lactic acid from sour milk

Of all the alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic acid or "GA" is the most promising for skin rejuvenation because it has the smallest molecular size. This small molecular size allows it to penetrate the outer layer of the skin to a greater extent than the other alpha hydroxy acids. 

How does it work?

Glycolic Acid penetrates the layers of the skin and works in two ways.

First: Glycolic acid loosens and dissolves the glue-like substance that holds the outer layer of cells to each other and to the underlying epidermis. These thick, piled up, clinging cells are responsible for appearance of dry, rough, scaly skin and brown age or sun damage spots.


When the glue is loosened, the thick strateum corneum is sloughed away and the skin has a much more smooth, moist, refined, vibrant appearance. GA also loosens the corneocytes (dead cells), which block the follicles and cause acne. Once the follicle clears, the GA continues to work to prevent acne from reoccurring.

Second: Glycolic acid affects deeper layers of the skin by regenerating collagen and elastin. Clinical studies show marked disappearance of fine lines and reduction of coarser, deeper wrinkles.

What are the benefits of glycolic acid?

With regular use of glycolic acid products skin will have:

  • Healthier appearance
  • Increased elasticity and firmness
  • Diminished fine lines / reduced coarser, deeper wrinkles
  • Diminished / reduced comedones (acne lesions)
  • Improved texture, color, tone, and moisture content

What makes some glycolic acid products better than others?

Some glycolic acid products better than other GA products. There are three important features, which affect the benefit of glycolic acid products:

  1. Free Acid Concentration of the product
  2. pH of the product
  3. Base of Vehicle which carries the glycolic acid

The free acid concentration is the most important factor regarding the benefits of glycolic acid. Most clinical studies have been performed with free acid concentrations of 5% or greater. The higher the free acid concentration the more significant the improvement in skin texture, color, tone and fine wrinkles. Many companies buffer or neutralize the GA, which reduces the pH and free acid concentration. Even buffered and neutralized products are effective if the pH range is 2.5 to 3.5 and the free acid concentration is 5% or greater. Obviously, appropriate labeling and product information is essential for clients to obtain maximum results. Skin can develop tolerance to the improvement produced by a level of free GA. Step-up programs have been designed which allow clients to increase the strength of home maintenance programs. Maximum improvement will occur at free acid concentrations of 15 to 20 percent. Higher levels are irritating to the skin if used on a daily basis, but can be used as maintenance chemical peels performed by trained personnel.

The pH is also an important factor regarding the benefits of glycolic acid. The normal skin pH is about 4.8, which means the skin is “acid balanced.” GA products work because they are acidic. Acidic products with a pH of 2.5 to 3.5 cause a natural exfoliation in the outer layer of skin. The lower the pH and the higher the free acid concentration the greater the exfoliation. The pH of the GA peel is less than 2. This is the reason that the free GA peels produce a more profound effect. Buffered and neutralized products with pH levels near 4 and low free acid concentrations will produce a decreased benefit for clients.

The base or vehicle of the free glycolic acid can increase or decrease its penetration into the outer layer of the skin. Alcohol-based products increase skin penetration but need to be monitored due to irritation of thick skin (such as, around the eyes), and in clients with dry or sensitive skin. Oil-free, protein base products allow excellent penetration in areas of thick or sensitive skin. This is in large part due to the small molecular size of the base, which allows the chemical to penetrate the outer layer of the skin. Cream bases, which do not contain mineral oil, are excellent bases for the delivery of GA in normal skin areas. The larger molecular size of the cream base will not allow adequate penetration in areas of think skin (such as, the eyelids), but it will moisturize areas of thin skin. Because it does not contain mineral oil, it will not clog pores. Client’s skin types and skin areas have different characteristics, which necessitates the versatility of the products base.


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