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Salicylic Acid vs. Glycolic Acid: What’s the Difference?

By Belo Medical Group on September 5, 2020

When the word “acid” comes to mind, you might be thinking of the lethal stuff we use to disinfect toilets. (Yikes.) But in skincare, acids can be found in a multitude of anti-aging and anti-acne products, from toners to serums and more. While not all of us are familiar with the “acid alphabet” (AHA, BHA…LMNO-PHA?), we’re sure you’ve heard of these two: salicylic and glycolic acid. That’s because you can find them in even the most rural of supermarket aisles. But for the baffled and acne-prone, you might ask…what’s the difference?

The difference between salicylic and glycolic acid

Salicylic acid is a BHA (beta hydroxy acid), which means that two carbon atoms separate the hydroxy molecule from the acid. Two, hence the word “beta.” It’s derived from willow bark, which has been used in ancient Greek and Chinese civilizations to curb pain, fever, and (hint, hint!) inflammation. That also means it’s capable of being dissolved or liquefied in oil, which makes it great at penetrating deep into the pores of your skin. 

When it’s down in the war zone, er, your skin, it then breaks down the connections between cells to help unclog your pores. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent to help pus-filled zits go down easy. Dr. Belo’s go-to recommendation for the acne-prone? A jar of powerful salicylic acid pads, which packs 2% salicylic acid for maximum acne prevention and treatment.

Glycolic acid, on the other hand, is an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid). It’s derived from sugar cane, and it has the smallest molecules, so it penetrates into the skin easily. It’s able to stimulate collagen and loosen the bonds between cells in your stratum corneum (AKA the top layer of your skin). By loosening those cells, it becomes easier for them to slough off, revealing the good skin you have underneath.

Which acid is Dr. Belo’s favorite?

Dr. Belo personally loves glycolic acid. “In the morning, I use a glycolic acid exfoliator and vitamin C. I think every person is hiyang to certain medicine. What’s very bagay to me is a little glycolic [acid] or any alpha-hydroxy acid, but glycolic in particular my skin loves…to make sure my skin turnover is good,” she said in a 2019 interview with Preview.ph. It’s a relatively beginner-friendly acid, which is also why it’s one of the most popular.

Which of these acids is right for you?

Now, as for the question of which acid is the best for you, that all depends on your skin type. Salicylic acid is particularly good for those who suffer from acne and inflammation, while glycolic acid caters to a wider variety of skin types. (One of our most sought-after basic facials is the Glycopeel Cleaning Facial.) 

Still, it’s best to have a consultation with one of our doctors first. Now that we’ve demystified two of the most lauded acids in skincare, you can click here to book an online consultation.

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