This is an esthetician’s guide to using The Ordinary’s 7% Glycolic acid toning solution! Cassandra loves to put this product on her face as well as other areas of her body like the armpits. And as a medical esthetician, Cassandra wants to share both the effectiveness and versatility of this product. So, let’s talk about the ways it can be used and how to properly integrate it into your routine.
What is glycolic acid?
Glycolic acid is best for exfoliation, and it can also help with pigmentation, skin discoloration, acne scars, and active acne. Glycolic acid is an AHA derived from sugar cane. It's water-soluble, and it's a very small molecule that can penetrate into the skin. So, if you’re extremely prone to irritation or pigmentation, you'll want to patch-test glycolic acid before using it, perhaps on the inside of your elbow. And in the words of Dr. Alexis Stephens, start low and go slow. Always follow manufacturers' directions as well and speak with a professional before trying things.
The Ordinary's glycolic acid has a pH of 3.6. This is a lower pH which means it's acidic and can penetrate into the skin better. However, it might irritate the skin more as well. To mitigate this, you can dilute the product with water. The effects of this product might be more subtle if you already have acids in your routine or if you have resilient skin.
Can you use glycolic acid on your hair?
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution - $13
This product is intense, but when used properly, you can use it on your face, armpits, and even your scalp! If you have a lot of scalp build-up, using glycolic acid or an exfoliating acid can be a great option. However, make sure the solution doesn't run down into your eyes, and before you use this for scalp buildup, talk to your doctor or derm first. Scalp buildup is different than dandruff, eczema, or seborrheic dermatitis. If this is the case, glycolic acid isn't going to help. But as mentioned before, if you just need light exfoliation, this can be a really invigorating treatment for the scalp as long as you also wear a sunscreen..
Moreover, Cassandra has spoken with a few dermatologists, trichologists, and hair experts, and many have noted that using certain acids like glycolic acid on the scalp can stimulate hair growth upon being used properly rather than excessively. When Cassandra uses The Ordinary's Glycolic Acid Toning Solution on her scalp, she dilutes it. First, she makes sure that her hair is wet, and then she uses the nozzle to stipe it vertically across the part of her hair. She leaves it on for just a minute or two while she conditions the ends of her hair and rinses it out. The product rinses out easily because it's water-soluble. Afterward, Cassandra's hair looks shiny, and most importantly, her scalp is invigorated.
Can you use glycolic acid on your body?
You can also glycolic acid on the armpits. However, exfoliating the underarms is not always a good idea, and likewise, Cassandra doesn’t even recommend glycolic acid for exfoliation. Cassandra recommends glycolic because it can help to mitigate smell. When bacteria eats our sweat and creates waste products, it causes our armpits to smell. Glycolic acid will not decrease sweating, "but it does alter the skin's pH, which potentially decreases the concentration of skin bacteria" (Dr. Elyse Love, Byrdie, 2022).
Apart from glycolic acid, there are different things that you can use for deodorizing. But remember, deodorant properties are different than antiperspirant properties although many products have both. Deodorants help with smell, and antiperspirants prevent sweating. So, glycolic acid can have deodorant functions.
But when it comes to using it as an exfoliant, many professionals advise against exfoliating the underarms because it can cause chafing and irritation. And if you’re worried about discoloration, you can use something like IPL or vitamin C instead.
By the way, it’s not bad to have dark underarms. It's not something to be embarrassed of. But, if you want to use an exfoliator for that, ask your doctor or derm first. Glycolic acid can also be helpful for ingrown hairs.
And speaking of ingrown hairs, you shouldn’t use glycolic acid after you’ve shaved. But, a couple days after shaving, you could use the glycolic acid to help get rid of some of the bacteria that might cause smell.
How do you use glycolic acid?
Cassandra would recommend applying glycolic acid with a cotton pad. It is an intense toning solution so you don’t want it to peel your palms.
Cosme Cotton Pad
These are from Japan, but you can apply glycolic acid to any cotton pad and swipe it across a specific area of your face. For example, because Cassandra gets a lot of sebaceous filaments on her nose, she loves using it in that area. Glycolic acid can help exfoliate and get rid of those little filaments. Glycolic acid can also help with blackheads or open comedones by exfoliating. This is a wonderful spot treatment, but if you’re not worried about dryness, you can swipe this all over your face and neck as long as you remember to wear a sunscreen during the day.
You could also apply glycolic acid with a nice water-based moisturizer or a sleep mask. Since glycolic acid is very exfoliating, you can replenish the skin with hydration. But, if you are oily, you might not need that much hydration. What’s right for you is going to vary.
Some of Cassandra’s favorites are K-beauty sleeping packs. There's specifically a ceramide sleeping pack from Purito that is one of Cassandra’s favorite K-beauty products of all time.
Purito Dermide Cica Barrier Sleeping Pack - $11 - $19.50
This is so gentle on the skin, and it nicely buffers the intensity of the glycolic acid.
When do you use glycolic acid?
Cassandra would only recommend using this product during the nighttime. Once you get used to it, you could even use it every day. Most people can use it once or twice a night in tandem with applying a sunscreen during the day.
Isntree Onion Newpair Sunscreen SPF40 PA+++ - $16.54 - $22.50