Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Acid Difference: Glycolic vs. Salicylic

Cleopatra-Elizabeth-Taylor-20th-Cent-Fox-1963sm-1.jpg (266×396)
Supposedly Cleopatra bathed in milk which naturally contains lactic acid, a form of AHA.How many want to bet Elizabeth Taylor at least tried it?

So sorry I have been on a couple day hiatus guys, sometimes you just get blogged out and sticking to my own self imposed schedule was wearing on me. I am still figuring this all out and how I want to write this thing. So I have noticed that people seem to find the more technical blogs helpful so today is another that seem to be a topic a lot of people are confused with; the difference between glycolic and salicylic acid, a topic suggested by my good friend Amaira.

So just because they are both acids, doesn't mean they do the same thing. They both are valuable at treating acne, but acids are also useful for other things. I am not a doctor, so listen to whatever they say or prescribe for you, and ask them any serious questions, disclaimer over, now I will try to explain:

Salicylic Acid

Is a beta-hydroxy acid or BHA. Is is primarily used for the treatment of acne. There is really no other reason to use it. It is from the same chemical family as aspirin  so it is very good at bringing down redness and inflammation caused by nodular acne. It is also anti-bacterial so it prevents acne bacteria from forming a zit in the first place. It works as an acid by dissolving dead skin cells and oil, making it also very good for blackheads. By cleaning out the pores it can also diminish the look of them. It is normally found in concentrations of 0.5% to a max of 2% because of its oil dissolving properties; dissolving too much oil would dry the skin out and irritate it. My favourite products with salicylic are toners because they work amazingly well on blackheads, and the skin doesn't get too dried out because you are following up with a moisturiser  My current favourite is this one from Korres (one of my favourite brands at the moment, another ) which smells amazing and also has some additional anti-redness properties:

Korres Pomegranate Toner
Glycolic Acid

Is an alpha-hydroxy acid or an AHA. Surprisingly glycolic acid in various form is used as a treatment for a lot of different skin conditions. AHAs dissolve the "glue" holding dead skin cells together, not the dead skin itself. This is important to note because basically, it works a lot further into the skin, causing new cells to become exposed a lot faster. This helps with acne because all the crud that was in the skin gets pushed to the surface faster, and dead skin is not trapped on the skin by its "glue" trapping sweat and oil underneath. It usually works well on people that are experiencing acne that is small bumps and generally uneven skin. It doesn't rid the skin of any oil however, so its not for the super oily people in the crowd. But try both, I find often, one works better than the other depending on the person and the type of acne.

AHAs do deal with the aftermath of acne better however. Because AHAs are deeply exfoliating, they do help diminish the look of acne scarring and hyper-pigmentation. It also will help with hyper-pigmentation (aka. dark spots and freckles) caused by sun damage if you stick with it (like more than 6 weeks, nothing happens over night people); it is the best over-the-counter spot treatment there is. Superficial fine lines can be reduced by glycolics because of the exfoliation but if they are more serious wrinkles you might want to look at something like a retinol. Glycolics can also help with conditions like keratosis pilaris, a condition the produces bumps when the dead skin doesn't naturally flake off the body. 

Overall, AHAs helps to give a nice, even completion. Glycolic acid is the strongest and is generally the most common form of AHA which is lab derived from sugar cane, and is available in up to a 10% concentration in Canada (sold over the counter). Lactic acid (derived from milk) is also another form of AHA, but it is also milder. It more just softens the bonds of the dead skin, making it better for drier skin types and softening rough skin. There are a few other types of AHA like citric acid (more used as a preservative) but it is more likely these two. My two favourites for glycolic acid are Reversa (Amaira's favourite) and Neostrata, both Canadian-made (sorry everyone to the south! they ship online) cosmeceutical companies that also make prescription products. Their boring packaging, is made up for by good quality stuff in the jar, and they have lots of different options to offer depending on need. Both brands also offer a "day" version that includes a SPF but you can just use glycolic acid at night. 

Reversa Corrective Night Cream
Also contains peptides for an anti-wrinkle, best of both worlds!

Neostrata Night Repair Cream
Gives an extra bit of glow with a healthy dose of perk up vitamins

A few things to bear in mind when you are using (or are thinking about using) glycolic acid or AHAs:
-you are dealing with new skin all the time, which makes the skin  more susceptible to getting sunburnt, moisture loss, and sensitivity. Wear a good moisturiser with sunscreen everyday (all the time!) while you are using a glycolic treatment.
- Build up your tolerance  Do not start out with the highest percentage thinking it will work the best. It will burn and peel your face off, and you will be really dry and hate me. No matter how tolerant they say the skin is to the product. Start off with 4% , using it every other night, then nightly, then move up a percentage or two if you really think you need it. Most people I think don't really need to move much beyond the 4% for face, but to each his own.
-You are already exfoliating at the chemical level, you do not need to be manually exfoliating with harsh scrubs and cleansers. it may seem weird not to manually exfoliate, but there is nothing left to scrub off!
-DO NOT double up. If you are already on a retinol or vitamin A, it is not a good idea to use a glycolic as well because the retinol is already speeding up the exfoliating process. 
-If you have dry skin, glycolic acid (and most anti-spot treatments) are not for you because your skin needs that natural barrier to keep what little moisture it has in. Try a mild micro-bead scrub instead, and possibly a product with rose oil, an mild natural form of vitamin A to help with pigmentation
-Along the same lines, if you are redness or rosacea prone with thinner skin, glycolic acid is not for you. Irritating the skin by exfoliating it and making the already weak skin barrier weaker is not a good idea. 

It is extremely helpful for a lot of conditions, but it isn't a blanket fix all. I find it has worked wonders for a ton of women, but it doesn't work for everyone, contrary to what seems to be the general belief in the cosmetics industry. Like any skin care, there is some degree of trial and error to find out what is going to work for you.      

So have I scared you off glycolic acid?
Which type of acid do you find most effective for acne?
Have you ever tried a Cleopatra style milk bath (I really want to)?


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