Glycolic Acid vs. Salicylic Acid: Which is Best for your Skin?

Taking proper care of your skin is an essential part of self-care as clear and healthy skin unarguably makes you feel good about yourself.

There’s just this relaxing feeling you get when your skin is not acting up, you have one less problem to worry about.

For a few people, clear skin comes naturally, whereas a significant portion has to “work” for it.

By work, I mean buying skincare products and having a skincare routine because beautiful skin requires commitment.

A skincare routine, however, should not be limited to treating skin blemishes, as skincare products also promote healthy skin.

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When it comes to skincare, getting the right product for your skin determines your results.

Various ingredients are combined when producing skincare products to ensure their effectiveness in treating skin concerns. The most common ingredients found in these products include;

  • Alpha-hydroxy acid
  • Beta hydroxy acid
  • Kojic acid
  • Niacinamide
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Hydroquinone
  • Retinol
  • Glycerin
  • Vitamin C

For the sake of this article, we’ll be focusing on the first two, Alpha-hydroxy acid and Beta hydroxy acid, to properly distinguish between glycolic and salicylic acids.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is the most popular type of Alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). Glycolic acid is an AHA that occurs naturally in sugarcane, sour milk, and fruits.

Glycolic acid is an excellent ingredient for treating skin concerns because of its exfoliating properties.

Glycolic acid is known to have a smaller molecule than other AHAs, allowing it to penetrate the skin.

So, in complement to maximizing skin health on the surface, it’s also working below the surface by facilitating the production of collagen and reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. 

AHAs are soothing and gentle on the skin.

Skincare products containing glycolic acid come in various formulas, including cleansers, gentle toners, at-home peel pads, and medical-grade chemical peels.

Benefits of Glycolic Acid

Regarding the debate; glycolic acid vs. salicylic acid, outlining both acids’ benefits should help narrow your choice.

Even Skin Tone

Uneven skin tone is commonly caused by UV rays, poor skincare habits, or not wearing enough sunscreen.

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Glycolic acid helps correct uneven skin tone in different ways. Besides shedding away the layer of dead skin cells, glycolic acid also improves the skin’s resilience against external aggressors.

This makes your skin brighter and evenly toned.

Tackles Acne

If you have acne-prone skin, you can benefit from glycolic acid. This AHA is a common choice for shedding off dead skin cells from the skin’s surface.

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Since acne occurs due to one’s pores getting clogged with dirt, oil, bacteria, and other impurities, the exfoliating property of glycolic acid can come in handy.

Regular use of glycolic acid will result in less appearance of acne over time.

Cures Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is brought about by excess melanin production in the skin.

Lately, hyperpigmentation is becoming more popular among all age groups.

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Despite its harmless nature, having dark skin patches in some areas of your face makes it an annoying skin problem.

Using glycolic acid can help address mild hyperpigmentation as it exfoliates the damaged top layer of the skin. It also reduces the marks left behind by aging and sun damage too.

Reduces Wrinkles and Fine Lines

Glycolic acid will help lessen the signs of aging.

If you’re dealing with premature aging and want to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, glycolic acid will help you achieve that.

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It increases collagen levels in the skin, which is essential in keeping healthy and supple skin.

Brightens Complexion

Asides being a gentle exfoliator, glycolic acid also plumps the skin by stimulating hydration levels in the skin.

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Glycolic acid has the ability to retain moisture in the skin, using glycolic acid can brighten your complexion and make your skin look healthy.

Now let’s take a look at salicylic acid.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a BHA (beta hydroxy acid).

BHAs infiltrate deep into the hair follicles of your skin and work on drying out dead skin cells and excess oils.

Salicylic acid works on your skin by breaking down the link between the cells to unclog pores.

Whilst Salicylic acid works on the surface of the skin, it also penetrates deep into the pores of the skin to clear excess dirt.

It is often applied to combination and oily skin to reduce sun damage and prevent acne.

Salicylic acid can also be used to soothe sensitive skin. 

Benefits of Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acids also have significant health benefits. Here they are;

Checks Excess Oil

Adding this BHA into your skincare routine will balance oil without making your skin too dry.

Salicylic acid controls sebum production and reduces excessively oily skin.

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It works best for those with oily, combination, and acne-prone skin.

Reduces The Appearance of Blackheads and Whiteheads

Salicylic acid, Unlike glycolic acid, penetrates the skin’s surface to remove debris from the skin’s pores.

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Pores get blocked when excess dirt, sebum, and hair follicles mix.

This, in turn, leads to whiteheads and blackheads, which harm the luster and texture of your skin. Salicylic acid clears your pores at the deepest level to give you healthy and clean skin.

Prevents Acne

Since salicylic acid operates on the deeper layers of the skin by unclogging pores, this means you will experience fewer breakouts and acne.

Acne bumps are not only painful, but they also make your face look pale.

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The calming properties of salicylic acid will heal the pain and redness that comes with pimples.

Glycolic Acid vs. Salicylic Acid; Vital Contrasts

  • Salicylic acid penetrates the skin and works from the inside out, while glycolic acid does the opposite. That means it works outside-in ( if that’s an actual word)
  • Glycolic acid boosts collagen and relieves the bonds between the top layer of your skin to reveal the good skin you have beneath.

Determining which is better for your skin depends on the results you wish to see.

Salicylic acid is a better option if you want to cure acne breakouts and blemishes because it penetrates the deeper layer of your skin and clears pores that cause acne.

Glycolic acids, on the other hand, function better in reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation and gives you an overall smooth and fresh skin texture.


Before trying out any skincare product, visit a professional skincare therapist to know your skin type and which product better suits your skin.

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