- Glycolic acid products are effective for the treatment of blackheads.
- Glycolic acid not only exfoliates the surface of the skin but penetrates to dissolve the sebum that causes blackheads.
- Various glycolic acid products can be used in a combination approach to both clear blackheads and prevent new blackheads from forming.
How Does Glycolic Acid Fight Blackheads?
Blackheads begin as clogged pores. Sebum produced naturally by the skin combines with dead skin cells to form a sticky buildup within the pores. When the sebum comes into contact with air, oxidation causes it to darken and a blackhead is formed.
Glycolic acid’s principle strength comes from its small molecular size. As the smallest member of the alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) family, glycolic acid easily penetrates the top layer of skin to dissolve the sebum and dead skin cells that form to create the blackhead.
Glycolic acid also removes the surface layer of skin to help free the material trapped within pores..
How to Clear Blackheads Using Glycolic Acid
The most common home glycolic acid products are chemical peels, cleansers and facial serums. Each type contains varying amounts of glycolic acid, ranging from professional peels with concentrations of up to 50% glycolic acid, to every day cleansers as low as 1%.
Glycolic Acid Peels
In a clinical setting, glycolic acid peels are the most commonly used type of alpha-hydroxy chemical peel. While not nearly as strong as a professional peel, home glycolic acid peels contain the same active ingredient.
A professional-grade glycolic acid peel may be as high as 50% glycolic acid. At-home peels and face masks typically have lower concentrations of 20–30%. These concentrations may be easier to tolerate, but still carry risks such as burns and irritation. Be sure to closely follow the instructions.
Glycolic Acid Facial Serums
Glycolic acid facial serums are an effective way to clear blackheads and simultaneously reduce fine lines and wrinkles. To use a glycolic acid serum, apply a thin layer to the problem area and gently pat the serum onto the skin.
Glycolic acid serums typically range in concentration from 10–30% glycolic acid concentration, and can cause irritation if your skin is not accustomed to them. Start slowly and repeat after a few days – especially if you have sensitive skin. Once your skin is used to the serum, you can increase the frequency to three or more times per week.
Glycolic Acid Cleansers
You can easily replace your regular cleanser with a glycolic acid cleanser. Glycolic acid cleansers typically have a concentration of 1–8%.
While the amount of glycolic absorbed from a quick cleanse won’t equal that of a mask, cleansing up to three times per week with a glycolic acid cleanser does help to prevent future breakouts.
Which Glycolic Acid Products Are Best for Removing Blackheads?
The best solution for clearing blackheads is a combination approach. While it would be easy to assume that simply using the strongest products would work best, keep in mind that prevention is half the battle.
Glycolic acid peels are very effective in clearing up blackheads, but due to their strength they can’t be used frequently. The stronger the glycolic acid peel, the more downtime you’ll need between treatments. Even a mild peel shouldn’t be used more than once every two weeks.
As a preventative measure, glycolic acid washes and toners can be used daily or every other day as part of your regular skin care routine. While washes and toners won’t have the same instant effects as a peel, they are effective preventative measures and will reduce new blackheads to a minimum.
Is Using Glycolic Acid for Blackheads Appropriate for All Skin Types?
As a member of the AHA family of acids, glycolic acid can be used on any skin type, but because of AHA’s superior moisturizing properties they are often preferred by those with dry skin.
AHA’s sister family of acids, beta-hydroxy acids (BHA) are best for those with oily skin. Unlike AHAs, BHAs such as salicylic acid are oil-soluble; they can enter the pores where oil and debris collect to form blackheads.
AHAs and BHAs are also excellent choices for improving skin texture, reducing wrinkles and for their anti-aging effects.
For a more in-depth overview of blackhead treatments, see our complete guide to getting rid of blackheads.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.) Glycolic acid. pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Glycolic-acid
- Sharad J. (2013). Glycolic acid peel therapy – a current review. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 6, 281–288. doi:10.2147/CCID.S34029