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Glycolic Acid vs. Salicylic Acid: Which is Better?

Published: May 6, 2022

If you’re familiar with skincare products, then you’ve probably seen the ingredients glycolic acid and salicylic acid pop up on product labels for serums, cleansers, toners, and more. But what exactly are these acids, and what do they do? Knowing the difference can help you choose the most effective products for your unique skin.


Glycolic acid is a common ingredient found in many skincare products. It’s a tiny acid molecule which easily absorbs into your skin when applied. It’s classified as an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which is a type of acid found in many different plants and animals. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane.

Because glycolic acid molecules are so small, they easily penetrate the skin’s barrier, making them great for dealing with skin issues that affect multiple layers of skin, like hyperpigmentation conditions. Glycolic acid also works well for surface-level skin problems. Additionally, it has antimicrobial properties, making it an effective treatment against acne-causing bacteria.

"Glycolic is the gold standard when it comes to effective exfoliation, especially when used for aging concerns because it is so broadly beneficial- from smoothing skin texture, boosting collagen, and brightening the skin.

Christine Lee, Board Certified Esthetician and [ comfort zone ] Master Educator

product witg glycolic acid on a white stone bakcground


There are many benefits to using glycolic acid for skin. To start, it produces an anti-aging effect. After soaking into the skin, glycolic acid molecules stimulate your body to produce collagen, the protein responsible for keeping your skin elastic. It also loosens the bond between your skin cells, making it easier for dead skin to slough off.

AHA exfoliators, like Comfort Zone’s orange peel scrub for the body and peel pads for the face, pair glycolic acid’s natural light exfoliation with a mechanical exfoliation for more effective results. Achieve smooth, glowing skin by regularly exfoliating with glycolic acid.

Moisturizes Dry Skin

Glycolic acid skincare products work well on dry skin because they naturally remove dead skin cells. When dead skin cells build up on your face, they can prevent your skincare products, like moisturizer, from absorbing properly into your skin. Pairing skincare products with glycolic acid makes them more effective.

Repairs Hyperpigmentation/Uneven Skin Tone

Acne scars, hyperpigmentation spots (like sun spots or age spots), and uneven skin tone can all benefit from glycolic acid products. Because they remove dead surface-level skin, these products help even out skin tone.

Shrinks Enlarged Pores

Enlarged pores are the result of reduced elasticity in your skin—that’s why pores appear larger as you age. By naturally stimulating collagen production, glycolic acid can shrink facial pores.

Reduces Fine Lines/Wrinkles

Fine lines and wrinkles also develop over time as your skin loses its natural elasticity. Consistent use of products containing glycolic acid can reduce their prevalence and severity by boosting collagen production.

Brightens Dull Complexion

A dull complexion results when dead skin cells mask healthy, glowing skin cells. By stimulating dead skin cells to fall off, glycolic acid naturally brightens complexion. Glycolic acid chemical peels, like Skin Regimen glycolic mask, provide a more intense treatment to produce youthful, bright, glowing skin.

picture of a leg after applying acids
picture of a leg after applying skincare acid products


Salicylic acid is classified as a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). It’s naturally derived from willow and evergreen plants.

BHAs have powerful exfoliating properties due to their ability to dry out sebum, the oil naturally present on skin. When salicylic acid is applied to the skin, it absorbs into hair follicles and dries out excess oil and dead skin cells. This not only cleans out pores, but it also causes dead skin to slough off.


BHAs like salicylic acid are primarily used for their exfoliating and acne-prevention properties. They’re also an anti-inflammatory agent, making them great for treating red or irritated skin. Like glycolic acid, salicylic acid has antimicrobial properties, which helps it to fight bacteria on the skin which can cause acne.


Salicylic acid penetrates deep into your pores to remove the buildup of oil, dead skin, and debris. For people looking for an intense exfoliating treatment, products with a concentration of salicylic acid will be beneficial.

Acne-Prone Skin/Clogged Pores

Perhaps salicylic acid’s greatest strength is its ability to unclog pores. Skincare products, makeup, dead skin, sweat, and environmental pollutants can all clog pores, which in turn can cause acne, blackheads, and even cysts.

By absorbing into hair follicles (which come out of pores) salicylic acid helps to clear clogged pores on face of debris that causes blemishes.

Salicylic acid chemical peels are particularly good at fighting acne.

Oily Skin

Your skin naturally produces sebum to keep your skin cells moisturized and healthy. But some things—like hormones, neglecting to wash your face, or washing your face too much—can actually cause your body to overproduce sebum, resulting in oily skin.

This is where salicylic acid comes in. Salicylic acid reduces the production of sebum, helping to rebalance your body’s natural oils.

Red Skin

Salicylic acid has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin, which naturally reduces redness and swelling. This makes them a great option for people with sensitive skin who may be more susceptible to rashes and irritation from skincare products.


The key to choosing the right skincare product for you is focusing on what skin type you have and what skin issues you want to resolve.

If you naturally have dry skin, glycolic acid products can help boost skin moisture. They’re also great for helping even skin tone, repair sun damage, or reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

If you naturally have oily skin, salicylic acid can help naturally dry out your skin. Salicylic acid products are also great for people with acne-prone skin or anyone looking to add an exfoliating treatment to their skincare routine.

People with combination skin—skin that is dry in some areas and oily in others—will benefit from skincare products that contain low concentrations of glycolic acid and salicylic acid. If you’re adding both products into your routine, avoid using two separate products with high concentrations of either acid, since too much acid can irritate your skin. Comfort Zone Active Pureness Corrector contains a combination of both glycolic and mandelic acid, which together creates a gentle exfoliation, giving the skin a brightening and rebalancing action. 

No matter what skincare issues you’re dealing with, Comfort Zone products can help you get your best skin, naturally. Our skincare products are formulated with clean ingredients to benefit you and the planet—and we’re committed to sustainable products, packaging, and practices as part of our mission to create a good life for all.

Comfort Zone’s research-backed skincare products are designed to support you throughout your life—even as your skin changes with age. Come find your Comfort Zone to see just how beautiful your skin can be.

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