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The Percentage of Glycolic Acid Doesn't Matter. Here's Why.

The best way to tell if you're getting the full benefits of glycolic acid is by trying it on your skin. If you FEEL The Trustworthy Tingle, you know it's working as it should.
percentage of glycolic acid
Cosmetic skincare products grab your attention flaunting 50%, 20%, or 80% glycolic acid, making you think you are getting more value with the higher percentage of glycolic acid. The truth of it is that not all glycolic is made equal. In reality 98% of the products available offer about 0% of the value of glycolic acid you think. Ok, enough of the percentages. Here are the facts about this controversial marketing claim. 
First, what does glycolic acid do?
Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is commonly obtained from sugar cane. Glycolic acid is a key skincare ingredient that plays a crucial role in improving skin health by enhancing the natural exfoliation process. It works by removing dead and dehydrated skin cells from the surface, promoting a smoother and more radiant complexion. Unlike harsh physical exfoliants (beads or sugars), glycolic acid gently dissolves the bonds or "glue" between dead skin cells, resulting in a more even skin tone and texture. By accelerating cellular turnover, glycolic acid helps to reveal newer, healthier skin cells, thereby rejuvenating the skin and combating issues like dullness and uneven complexion. The potency of glycolic acid is gauged by its free acid value, which denotes the active acid content available to bring about positive changes to the skin.

To understand the most effective form of glycolic acid, let's talk about what the percentage really means. The percentage of glycolic means the dilution of the acid. The higher the percentage theoretically the stronger the acid. However, in most over the counter beauty and skincare products the glycolic acid is neutralized. This causes a big problem. Other ingredients when mixed with glycolic can decrease or worse neutralize the glycolic acid. For example, a product claims to have 25% glycolic acid but adds another ingredient that neutralizes or dilutes the acid then you're basically left with 0% of glycolic acid. In short the other ingredients cancel out the skin-loving benefits of glycolic. 

So you may be wondering why brands neutralize, cancel, or buffer their glycolic acid. Because what's the point if you don't receive any of the benefits of glycolic acid? Well, we asked Dermatologist Dr. B, "Glycolic acid is meant to tingle or sting when applied. That's how you know you have a real product." Further he added, "These big beauty companies don't want to mess with explaining and educating the customer on how to handle this clinical-grade ingredient, rather they just neutralize it so you think you're getting something worth while. Unfortunately, it does nothing. Rather, here at Dermatologist's Choice we trust our customers to know what is right for their skin and help educate them on the real active non-neutralized glycolic." The truth is, pure active glycolic acid can cause redness, dryness, and flaky skin. This is normal. If you're not ready for those effects then opt for a low concentration of glycolic to build your tolerance.

The best way to tell if you're getting the full benefits of glycolic acid is by trying it on your skin. If you FEEL the glycolic acid entering your skin with a tingle (we call it the Trustworthy Tingle) or sting then you know you are applying real active non-neutralized glycolic acid. 

So next time you're shopping for a glycolic acid product don't pay any attention to the percentage. It's best to try the product on your skin. Active non-neutralized glycolic, used in Dermatologist's Choice, will provided you the clinical-grade potency and benefits you want. 

Incorporate the real active non-neutralized glycolic acid with Dermatologist's Choice skincare developed by Dermatologist Dr. B. We recommend starting with the Age Management: Starter Set, or for those who have more tolerant skin to acids and have used glycolic acid before may try the Age Management: Intermediate Set. For those who have experience with active non-neutralized glycolic and TCA peels, we recommend the TCA Advanced Peel Solution.

Here are some additional FAQs:

Is glycolic acid safe? Can it be used every day?

Glycolic acid is generally considered safe for daily use when used in moderate concentrations. However, any chemical exfoliant can potentially lead to redness or irritation. While it's not recommended to cause irritation it can provide a deeper and faster treatment when applied daily or consistently. With more regular use the skin will grow a tolerance to the glycolic acid. When using glycolic acid or any peeling acid it's important to understand your personal skin concern, acid tolerance, and desired "downtime" (it can mean when skin is red, dry, and flaking). Everyone's skin is different so finding a personalized combination of acid concentration and how often to applied is customizable. It is important to identify the appropriate concentration of glycolic acid for your specific skin concerns. Lower concentrations, typically under 4%-5% like the Facial Enhancement Cream, provide gentle exfoliation and may be used once or twice daily. For targeting specific skin issues like acne, glycolic acid may be added to formulations at lower levels to enhance skin cell turnover. If your focus is on addressing visible signs of aging such as fine lines, dullness, and uneven skin texture, a concentration of  greater than 5% and closer to 10%- 17% glycolic acid is generally recommended for nighttime use like the Glycolic Peel Cleansing Pads and the Ultra Anti-Aging Cream. Higher concentrations of active non-neutralized glycolic acid above 20%, including those used in chemical peels, should be recommended and administered by skincare professionals to ensure safe and effective use. Pay close attention to the percentage brands are advertising the glycolic acid is in the product if it's higher than 10% and you don't feel the Trustworthy Tingle than it's likely neutralized and of no value. Regardless of the concentration, it is essential to always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day when using glycolic acid products due to their exfoliating nature.

Why is post-procedure care recommended after a glycolic acid peel, including the application of high SPF sunscreen?
Post-procedure care after a glycolic acid peel is crucial to protect the skin after treatment. Applying a SPF broad spectrum sunscreen helps shield the skin against damaging UVA/UVB rays, as the skin is more vulnerable to environmental aggressors post-peel. Applying moisturizer is important to soothe skin and minimize any redness or drying. However, some redness, dryness, and flaking is normal and to be expected since glycolic acid exfoliates the skin. It's usually not a concern. The more glycolic or TCA peels you apply the more your skin will become familiar with the sensation and effects.

Should I use a moisturizer after glycolic acid?

Yes, it is crucial to follow up the use of glycolic acid with the Hydrating Complex moisturizer. Glycolic acid, being an exfoliant, can sometimes have a drying effect on the skin. To counteract this, applying a moisturizer after using a glycolic acid formula is recommended. Thus, incorporating a moisturizer into your skincare routine after using glycolic acid is beneficial for maintaining skin hydration and overall skin health.

How is the formula neutralized with a buffering solution or water after the desired amount of time?
After the predetermined amount of time or when the product is manufactured, the glycolic acid peel solution is neutralized with a buffering solution or water to stop the exfoliating process and prevent skin irritation. This is why making sure your glycolic acid product is non-neutralized like Dermatologist's Choice products is important so you get all the great benefits of active glycolic. To know if it's neutralized you will not be able to feel the acid when it's applied. We call this the Trustworthy Tingle. It's important to feel the Trustworthy Tingle or the "sting" to know it's working. The glycolic enters the pores to exfoliate, brighten, and build collagen. If it's neutralized it doesn't do any of this. Some sting, redness or dryness is normal with active non-neutralized glycolic acid. Apply moisturizer and it typically fades away. Again, it's the skin receiving the active glycolic so it's a good thing.

What is the process of applying one or more layers of the solution onto the skin for a predetermined amount of time during a glycolic acid peel?
During a glycolic acid peel, one or more layers of the solution are applied onto the skin based on factors like concentration, skin type, and the patient's reactivity to the treatment. The solution is left on the skin, no need to rinse. Dermatologist recommend apply a glycolic acid moisturizer like the Facial Enhancement Cream with mild glycolic or the more potent Ultra Anti-Aging Cream after using the Glycolic Peel Cleansing Pads for a deeper treatment and best results. Use what your skin tolerates and work up to the stronger products for faster results.

What are the benefits of a glycolic acid peel, such as increasing cell turnover and improving skin texture?
The benefits of a Glycolic Peel Cleansing Pads include increasing cell turnover, softening the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and improving skin tone and texture. These treatments are effective in revealing smoother and healthier skin.

How is a glycolic acid peel performed by a skincare professional?
A glycolic acid peel is performed by a skincare professional using a chemical peel solution formulated with glycolic acid as the primary exfoliant. The treatment involves exfoliating and resurfacing the topmost layer of the skin to reveal new, healthy skin underneath. Now it's possible to apply this highly effective treatment safely at home with the Dermatologist's Choice Glycolic Peel Cleansing Pads.

Can I use glycolic acid with retinol or Retin-A?

While generally is not recommended to use formulas containing glycolic acid and Retin-A together in the same application, it can be possible based on your personal skincare concerns, products you're using, and tolerance to the ingredients. To minimize the risk of skin irritation, it is advised to apply the glycolic acid formula and the Retin-A formula on alternate days. This separation in application timings can help reduce potential adverse reactions. However, if you personally tolerate it and see it necessary for your skincare goals applying them together offers a very deep treatment. It is always best to consult with a physician before incorporating these ingredients into your skincare routine. When referring to retinol, most over the counter retinol products are not active and very minimal value compared to the more effective prescription Retin-A. Learn more why Dr. Bottiglione always recommends glycolic over retinol here

Can I use glycolic acid with vitamin C?

Yes, you can use glycolic acid with vitamin C. When used together, these two ingredients can complement each other to enhance the overall appearance of your skin. Glycolic acid helps in exfoliating the outer layer of dead skin cells, promoting the generation of newer, smoother skin. Vitamin C, on the other hand, is known for its antioxidant properties. To use both ingredients effectively, it is recommended to apply the product containing glycolic acid, we recommend the Facial Enhancement Cream or the Glycolic Peel Cleansing Pads before the one with vitamin C to allow each ingredient to work optimally. By incorporating both glycolic acid and vitamin C in your skincare routine, you can potentially achieve brighter, smoother, and rejuvenated skin.


anti aging solution cleanser hydrate oil free phthalate free

Age Management: Starter Set



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