The Skin Benefits of Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) vs (Beta Hydroxy Acid)

These ingredients are staples in the skincare and beauty world. Alpha Hydroxy acids are derived from plants like sugar cane, pineapple, and beets. The beta hydroxy acid labeled salicylic acid, finds its roots in Willow Tree bark. Yet, both natural derivatives are known for their exfoliating properties.

How the Hydroxy Acids Work

Hydroxy acids work by ungluing the skin cells and shedding them off to reveal newly sprouted cells, and a clearer, glowing complexion. When these acids are combined in low-concentrations they can provide great effects with less irritation. Other times, one product will merely pump up the volume of a single ingredient, like the shining star of the industry Glycolic Acid.

Glycolic acid tends to be less irritating than salicylic acid but is used in different strengths and PH levels to induce mild shedding in many OTC (over-the-counter) products. It is used for more robust clearance with in-office chemical peels.

Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, has antibacterial and antiseptic properties. This makes it a great ingredient to include in acne products, targeting P. Acnes bacteria. Due to the chemical structure of salicylic acid, it penetrates oil easier….meaning it can get into the sebum seeping crevices to unplug pores. Salicylic acid, loosens the skins surface cells with greater power than glycolic acid, thus it provides a maximized skin shedding ability. However, it can be a little irritating for sensitive skin people or with overuse.


Glycolic is the smallest particle acid, meaning it readily absorbs into the skin. This advances it effective abilities, of which, it has been touted to stimulate collagen, even skin tone, smooth fine lines, and enhance the skin thickness.

Salicylic acid can be used for its antibacterial properties in acne, but also to quell inflammation bigger acne bumps. It is a cousin of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), which lends to its calming effect. Yet, it has many other uses. Salicylic acid can treat conditions of skin buildup like psoriasis, thick heels/knees/elbows, dry alligator skin, keratosis pilaris, stubborn scalp dandruff, and even warts!

How to Choose and Use A Glycolic Acid or Salicylic Acid Product

As salicylic is a stronger chemical than glycolic, the percent you choose is important. A glycolic acid of 10% is considered mild, but the same in salicylic can be irritating.

Nonetheless, the area of application is equally important. Bacne (back acne!), tends to be stubborn, in a tougher skin area, and drenched in more oil. Thus, a 10% salicylic acid is more tolerable and effective on the back, while a facial product would be better in 2-5%.  Percentages higher than 5% are aimed for the peeling effect in antiaging regimens. For sensitive skin users, start low and go slow. An application of once or twice a week is a good initiation program to salicylic acid.

Glycolic acids are better for those with dry skin as it has humectant properties. It is the more common addition for anti-aging regimens. For a new glycolic user, its best to use an 8% or less concentration.

However, if you have serious dark spots and antiaging concerns, an 8-10% will work magic.

In any product, discern the “filler” ingredients. Chemicals such as calendula, green tea, chamomile, and jojoba oil can provide a soothing element, making the acid more tolerable.

 Finally, be patient in looking for results. Although a general glow may be apparent with few uses, the typical is 4-12 weeks needed to see drastic benefits of any skin product.

Font Resize
Call Us Text Us