How to Use Glycolic Acid Serum: The Secret to Beauty Enhancement

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Glycolic acid is a sugar cane derivative—the most popular aha acid. It is a chemical exfoliant that helps to remove dead skin cells to improve the appearance of the skin. A glycolic acid serum will help to rejuvenate skin tone and texture, but only if you know how to use it correctly. 

Glycolic acid gently exfoliates the skin to reveal a brighter and smoother complexion. Asides from aiding skin cell regeneration, it also makes your skin penetrable for other skincare products. 

Great for treating acne and hyperpigmentation—glycolic acid serum may be your free ticket into the world of skin radiance. Read ahead to find out how to use a glycolic acid serum in a skincare routine. 

How to Use Glycolic Acid Serum

As stated before, using the product properly is the only way to enjoy its benefits. Here is a guide to help you use your glycolic acid serum to achieve the most effect. 

1. Choose the right percentage for your skin type

Glycolic acid serums come in different concentrations from 8 to 30 percent of the ingredient. If your skin is dry or sensitive, the right one for you is between 8 to 10 percent glycolic acid serum. Sticking with this concentration will save you from unwanted side effects. 

For oily and acne-prone skin, you can start with 10 percent glycolic acid or higher. Your skin concern can help to determine the right one to go for. You can start with a low concentration like 10 percent and upgrade to a higher one as time goes on. 

2. Cleanse your skin before using the serum 

You should apply the glycolic acid serum only on clean skin. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser, which works for your skin type without causing irritation. After washing your face, rinse the cleanser off with cool water. 

You can use a toner after washing your face—to remove any form of stubborn dirt that’s still clinging to the skin. Again, use a toner that works on your skin without irritating it. 

3. Use only a pea-sized amount

As with every other topical product, using less is more than enough to treat your skin concerns. Apply only a pea-sized amount of serum on your skin to enjoy the benefits of the product. Pump out two drops of the serum and apply it all over your face using your fingertips. 

4. Moisturize your skin

Your skincare routine is not complete without a moisturizer. Apply a hydrating moisturizer to your skin to finish off the routine. This will help to reduce the chances of irritation and dryness on the skin. Likewise, it will help to strengthen the skin barrier and restore the skin’s pH level. 

Massage a generous amount into your face, neck, and jawline, and then head off to bed.

5. Protect your skin with sunscreen

Glycolic acid makes the skin sensitive to the sun’s UV rays. Exposing the skin to direct sunlight can cause sun damage to the skin. 

Therefore, it is important to apply a sunscreen of SPF 30 in your morning skincare routine. Likewise, you can make use of a moisturizer that contains SPF 30 or above. 

When Should You Use Glycolic Acid Serum?

Use your glycolic acid serum only in the evening, as using it in your morning routine puts your skin at risk of sunburn. Glycolic acid makes the skin sensitive to sunlight because of its exfoliating effect on the skin. 

It is only normal for the skin to be sensitive after it has been exfoliated. Exfoliation removes old skin cells from the surface of the skin and replaces them with new ones. These new skin cells are still sensitive and need to be protected from damage.

Using it at night gives your skin time to revitalize itself without the risk of sun damage. However, remember to apply an SPF 30 sunscreen or moisturizer the next morning. 

Is It Safe to Use Retinol and Glycolic Acid Serum Together?

It is safe to use glycolic acid and retinol together in your skincare routine. However, this is only possible if your skin can tolerate the use of both ingredients. 

Glycolic acid works similarly to retinol—to exfoliate the skin and improve skin tone. However, retinol works on a deeper level to enhance the texture and tone of the skin. 

Earlier on, you may have been warmed about using both ingredients in your routine. Regardless, you don’t need to choose between the two ingredients, except if you have sensitive or dry skin.

There is a common misconception that using retinol with AHAs can neutralize the ingredient and affect the way it works. However, research suggests that using retinol with glycolic acid in your skincare routine can work effectively to treat acne and scarring on the skin. 

How to Use Glycolic Acid Serum and Retinol Together

To use glycolic acid serum and retinol in your skincare routine, you have to use them on separate days. The two ingredients make the skin more sensitive to sun damage. Therefore, you have to use them at night. 

Since you can’t use them together in the same routine, you can alternate between each product every night. If you have dry, sensitive skin, or other skin concerns like eczema and rosacea, do not proceed with this. 

Ensure that you confirm with your dermatologist for help before adding new products to your routine.

Can You Use Glycolic Acid Toner With Vitamin C?

You can use a glycolic acid serum with vitamin C in your skincare routine. However, it depends on the balance of your skin’s pH level. Vitamin C is known to be unstable and neutral as its pH scale is low, while glycolic acid and other AHAs have a much higher pH level.

Mixing the two ingredients together or layering one immediately after the other is not right. Doing that can cause serious side effects such as itchiness, redness, and so on. The best way to use both is by separating them into your morning and evening skincare routine. 

How to Use Glycolic Acid Serum and Vitamin C Serum

Use your vitamin C serum in the morning and the glycolic acid serum at night. Using your vitamin C serum in the morning will help to protect your skin from environmental pollution, dust, and dirt that can cause damage to the skin. 

Since glycolic acid makes the skin sensitive to sunlight, it is best to use it at night. It will help to slough off dirt and dead skin cells from the skin. This will help to keep your skin’s pH balanced and improve its overall appearance.

Can You Use Glycolic Acid Serum Every Day?

You can use a glycolic acid serum every day to rejuvenate your skin. However, this depends on the concentration or the percentage of glycolic acid in the serum. If you are using a low percentage between 8 to 10 percent, you can use it every day in your routine. 

For higher concentrations of 20 to 30 percent, only use as often as your skin tolerates. Since glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant, you should be mindful of how often you use it, especially if you are often outdoors. 

Likewise, start slowly if you are new to using chemical exfoliants on your skin; learn to work your way up to everyday use.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you wash off glycolic acid serum?

No, you shouldn’t. Serums are a leave-on treatment. Therefore, Don’t wash off your glycolic acid serum after applying it. 

Apply the serum to your bedtime routine and go to sleep. Only wash your face at the beginning of your next skincare routine, which is your morning routine.

Does glycolic acid serum darken the skin?

No, it doesn’t. Instead, the glycolic acid serum helps to lighten and even out the skin tone. 

Glycolic acid is a gentle chemical exfoliant that works to promote skin cell regeneration and stimulate collagen production. This helps to brighten the complexion of the skin.

Can you leave glycolic acid serum on overnight?

Yes, you can. You can leave the glycolic acid serum on your skin overnight.

Apply the serum on your face in your nighttime routine before going to bed. This allows the product to help rejuvenate your skin texture and appearance as you sleep overnight.


Glycolic acid serum works as a gentle exfoliant to help enhance the appearance of the skin. Using the serum on your skin will help to brighten your skin and lighten dark spots. As glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliate, it can irritate your skin if you don’t use it properly.

Start with a low concentration if you have sensitive or dry skin. You can use a serum that contains between 8 to 10 percent of glycolic acid.

Oily and acne-prone skin can use up to 20% of the ingredient without experiencing any irritation. Remember to start slow and work up your way to frequent use of the product.

Thanks for reading.

Visit Serum101 for more guides on how to use your skincare products to achieve maximum effect.