Glycolic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid?

In the skincare world, there is one particular debate that is often the center of attention. That’s right, we’re talking about salicylic acid vs glycolic acid. Both ingredients can be found in a plethora of products including cleansers, serums, and toners, and they’re ideal for exfoliating the skin and reducing acne.

Despite the similarities, there are also quite a few differences between the two, and each has its own way of lending a helping hand.

Spoiler alert: there really isn’t a true winner in the glycolic vs salicylic debate. It all really depends on your skin type and your specific goals. That being said, let’s get into it, shall we?

Glycolic Acid: everything you need to know

While we could sit here all day exploring the wonderful world of glycolic acid, in this particular article we’re only going to be covering the basics. So, if you’d like to know more about the ins and outs of glycolic check out this blog.

Glycolic Acid (AHA) is an alpha-hydroxy acid naturally found in sugarcane and certain fruits. Since alpha-hydroxy acids are water-soluble, this means they dissolve best when paired with water.

What we love most about glycolic acid is its molecular shape. While this seems like a strange thing to rave about, the small size of the molecules allows them to pass the skin barrier with ease and penetrate the layers of your skin.  

The reason why glycolic acid makes the ideal ingredient for cleansers, the way it reacts with dead skin cells. Once it touches the skin, it begins to dissolve the dead skin cells sitting on the epidermis (the outer layers of your skin).

Removing these dead cells uncovers a brighter, youthful, and more radiant-looking appearance. You’ll also find your face feeling extra soft after a cleanse.

Other benefits when using glycolic acid versus salicylic acid include:

  • Reduces hyperpigmentation, sun damage, and acne marks
  • Reduces the appearance of aging - fine lines and wrinkles
  • Tightens the skin
  • Brightens the complexion
  • Manages acne breakouts by reducing inflammation, irritation, and swelling

Salicylic Acid: everything you need to know

While glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid, salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) - an oil-soluble. Beta-hydroxy acid can be naturally found in willow bark and wintergreen leaves. When used as an exfoliant, salicylic acid works very similarly to glycolic.

That being said, it does the job in a slightly different way. Since BHAs are oil-soluble, they work to dissolve the sebum (oil) and reduce production. Once there is less oil to fight, salicylic acid can reach deep into the pores to unclog them.

Other benefits when using salicylic acid versus glycolic acid include:

  • Manages acne breakouts by unclogging pores
  • Controls oily skin
  • Reduces hyperpigmentation
  • Reduces blackheads
  • Smooths and brightens the skin

Difference Between Glycolic Acid And Salicylic

As we mentioned, the biggest difference between salicylic acid and glycolic acid is the compound. While glycolic is water-soluble, salicylic is oil-soluble.

Basically, what this means is that salicylic acid is formulated to exfoliate the skin by getting deep into clogged pores, whereas glycolic acid works better on the surface of the skin, removing dead skin cells and brightening the appearance.

Another difference between glycolic and salicylic acid is the skin type it was made for. While both of these ingredients will do well on almost all skin types, there are a few that will reap the most benefits.

Glycolic acid works best on:

  • Normal-dry skin - helps boost the natural moisturizing factors within the skin
  • Sun-damaged skin - helps reduce hyperpigmentation and age spots
  • Aging skin - reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

Salicylic acid works best on:

  • Oily skin - works to dissolve the sebum and reduce oil production
  • Acne-prone skin - penetrates clogged pores and reduces inflammation


Who Should Avoid These Acids?

While both glycolic and salicylic acid go hand in hand with some of their benefits, not everyone's skin type is suitable for these products and some can even cause irritation and dryness.

For example, salicylic acid may be too harsh for people with dry skin as it can dry out the skin even further. While for some of us oil may seem like the bane of our existence, in moderation, it is an essential part of our moisture barrier. Removing too much of our skin’s natural oils can lead to irritation, dryness, and inflammation.

Glycolic acid can be an irritant for people with sensitive skin since it is designed to go deep into the pores. While this is ideal for some, for others it can cause dryness and inflammation.

The key to using either of these acids is to introduce them into your routine slowly.

Is glycolic acid or salicylic acid better for acne?

Both glycolic acid and salicylic acid work well when it comes to acne. But in general, salicylic acid is the most beneficial.

Since salicylic acid is a BHA, it decreases the oils in the skin. This is an important step as these oils can clog pores, possibly leading to an acne breakout. Excess oils can also promote bacteria which is a common cause of acne.

Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory and exfoliating qualities which can be a great benefit for acne-prone skin.

Glycolic acid vs salicylic acid toner

Glycolic acid and salicylic acid both have their places in the toner world. When either of these ingredients is included within a toner you’ll be able to see improvements when it comes to acne, hyperpigmentation, and a reduction in pores.

That being said, glycolic acid is the perfect prep for other skin care products. Not only does it enable the skin to absorb products better due to its exfoliating properties, but it also boosts hydration, allowing your skin to soak up all the goodness.

conclusion : Is Salicylic Acid The Same As Glycolic Acid?

In some ways, yes. But in most ways, no.

While both of these acids noticeably improve signs of acne, and hyperpigmentation, and brighten our overall complexion, they work in different ways and are designed for different skin types.

When glycolic acid is used in such products it works to hydrate the skin, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, as well as create the perfect base for other skin care products.

Salicylic acid is best at reducing oil build-up, unclogging pores, and reducing acne.

These ingredients have and always will be a staple in the skincare world, and there really isn’t a winner to be found. As long as you find the right one for you and introduce it into your routine slowly, there shouldn’t be a reason why your skin isn’t happily glowing.