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When to Use Glycolic Acid: Everything You Should Know

Learn best use practices, including when to use glycolic acid

From potent in-office chemical peels to at-home exfoliating serums, glycolic acid is a skincare mainstay that can be a real game changer in your skincare routine. This alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) gives dead skin cells the boot via chemical exfoliation. When used properly, it can make the difference between skin that looks dull, lackluster, and uneven and a brilliant, glowing complexion. 

Here’s the thing, though: it’s important to know how to use glycolic acid skincare products. Using this exfoliating ingredient incorrectly can potentially lead to irritation and skin sensitivity, especially if you’re using it too often, using ultra-strong concentrations, or mixing it with other active ingredients such as retinol. 

To help you reap the skincare benefits of glycolic acid, we’re diving into best use practices, including when to use glycolic acid, how often you should apply it, and extra skincare steps you can take for beautiful-looking skin. 

When Should I Start Using Glycolic Acid?

The answer to this question really depends on your specific skin goals. Generally speaking, though, you can add glycolic acid to your skincare regimen as early as your teen years to help target Bye Bye Pores Glycolic Acid Serum boasts a silky, skin-loving formula that helps refine texture while supporting smoother, supple-feeling skin. Even better, it also helps reduce the look of pores in as little as two weeks!* 

Some embrace glycolic acid as part of their anti-aging skincare routine versus utilizing it as a pore-refining hero. The good news is that it’s never too late to onboard an AHA like glycolic acid into your beauty process.

How Often Should I Use Glycolic Acid?

Every formula is different, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer regarding how often you should apply glycolic acid. Some products have ultra-strong concentrations you can use once every week or every other week. Other glycolic acid skincare products are gentler, and can be used as part of your daily routine. When in doubt, read the instructions on your product. 

Can You Use Too Much Glycolic Acid?

It’s totally possible to slather on glycolic acid with a bit too much gusto. Following the instruction label can help prevent this from happening, but it’s also important to focus on your skin’s needs. For example, some people with sensitive skin types may be more reactive to chemical exfoliation and should pull back the application reins. 

Signs that you’ve overdone it with any sort of exfoliation include redness, dryness, irritation, flaky bits, and dry skin. Some people may actually experience oily skin as their skin tries to compensate for the lack of hydration. We recommend reading through our handy guide on over-exfoliation.

When Is the Best Time to Use Glycolic Acid? 

In terms of order of application, the best time to use glycolic acid ultimately depends on the formulation of the product. For instance, some toners contain this ingredient and should be applied immediately after cleansing your face. Others are formulated as serums—like Bye Bye Pores Glycolic Acid Serum—and can be used after cleansing and toning, but before moisturizing. We suggest checking the instructions on your label for this one, too. 

As for whether you should apply glycolic acid morning or night, we recommend applying it as part of your evening skincare routine. Glycolic acid can cause “photosensitivity,” which means it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays, upping your chances of a sunburn or skin damage. The easiest fix is to pat it on before hitting your pillow and steering clear of this ingredient in the AM. And of course, don’t forget to apply plenty of sunscreen—and reapply when needed—every morning to protect your skin.

Can I Use Glycolic Acid In the Morning?

If you can avoid it, we recommend using glycolic acid at night instead of in the morning. Think of your daytime beauty routine as an opportunity to leverage the antioxidant-rich, free radical-fighting prowess of vitamin C! (FYI: It’s one of the star ingredients in Bye Bye Dullness Vitamin C Serum if you’re trying to get in on that brightening action. Don’t forget to pair it with sunscreen to further protect your skin.) 

Can You Mix Glycolic Acid With Retinol? 

We do not recommend combining glycolic acid with active ingredients, such as retinol, in the same application session. Don’t sweat it, though—this doesn’t mean you have to give up one or the other! Instead, alternate the nights you use these formulations. 

For example, you could use your Bye Bye Pores Glycolic Acid Serum on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday nights and your Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream on the other nights. See, you can have your skin-refining products and ones for cell turnover and collagen production, too! 

What Skincare Products Should I Use With Glycolic Acid?

As for the skincare goods you can use with your glycolic acid, we’ve got a few suggestions for you. First, it’s important to cleanse your skin in the morning and evening using a gentle cleanser, such as Confidence in a Cleanser. It leaves your skin feeling soft, refreshed, and perfectly balanced—a.k.a. ready to go for whatever skincare product comes next. If you want, you can also use a toner, such as Bye Bye Pores Leave-On Solution Pore-Refining Toner, which has a mattifying effect. 

In the evenings, we recommend using your glycolic acid product followed by a moisturizer. Confidence in Your Beauty Sleep Night Cream—which is scented with soothing lavender and won't rub off on your pillow—is a great pick. Exfoliation can be drying, so using a moisturizer is key. 

It’s also crucial to apply an SPF of 30 or higher to shield your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. This is true no matter what, but especially important when using glycolic acid, since this ingredient can cause photosensitivity. 

For an extra cherry on top, use IT Cosmetics CC+ Cream with SPF 50+, an award-winning, color-correcting cream that delivers full-coverage foundation, hydration, and some SPF oomph.**

Now that you know how and when to use glycolic acid, learn more about how Bye Bye Pores Glycolic Acid Serum can target your pores, texture, and tone.

*Based on expert assessment using clinical grading of pores in a six-week study and of skin texture in an eight-week study.

** The NPD Group/US Prestige Beauty Total Measured Market, Makeup Product Sales, January - December 2020.

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