Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
Salicylic Acid vs Glycolic Acid: Which is right for you?

Salicylic Acid vs Glycolic Acid: Which is right for you?

Salicylic acid will be more effective for people with oily skin while glycolic is more suitable for people with dry or mature skin.

Generally, salicylic acid is more gentle than glycolic due to its larger molecular size. Therefore, it may be more suitable for people with oily and sensitive skin.

Glycolic acid is a powerful ingredient that can be used to treat hyperpigmentation and signs of aging.

While both acids have a place in your skin care routine, you may want to avoid layering them together as it may cause irritation.

This article will explain everything you need to know about salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and which one is right for you.

What’s salicylic acid?

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Salicylic acid is an exfoliating acid and popular active ingredient commonly found in skincare products.

Also known as a beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid is used to treat acne and clogged pores thanks to its fat soluble nature.

Generally, salicylic acid is better suited for people with sensitive skin than other acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide.

You will commonly find salicylic acid included in products like cleansers and toners to treat textured skin and blackheads.

What’s glycolic acid?

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Known for boosting collagen production and fighting hyperpigmentation, glycolic acid is a popular alpha hydroxy acid.

Because of its relatively small molecular size, glycolic acid is one of the strongest alpha hydroxy acids.

In fact, glycolic acid is stronger than mandelic acid or even lactic acid.

It’s useful to:

  • Improve skin texture

  • Unclog pores

  • Treat acne breakouts

  • Stimulate collagen production

At the same time, glycolic acid may be too strong for people with sensitive skin.

Comparison: Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid

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Both glycolic and salicylic acids provide exfoliation properties, but they work differently! One might be better for you than the other depending on your skin type and sensitivity.


Salicylic acid has benefits like fighting clogged pores and dissolving dead skin cells to treat blackheads.

At the same time, glycolic acid benefits include stimulating collagen production and brightening dull skin.


Glycolic acid is stronger than salicylic acid.

Therefore, it is not as suitable for people with sensitive skin as salicylic acid.

If you’re looking for an alpha hydroxy acid that can provide some of the same benefits as glycolic, check out how mandelic acid compares to salicylic acid.

Skin Types

Because alpha hydroxy acids have hydrating properties, glycolic acid is more suitable for people with dry skin.

Further, glycolic acid can help stimulate collagen production, so it can be helpful for people with mature skin.

On the other hand, if you have oily or acne prone skin type, salicylic acid will be more effective.

Skin Concerns

Both acids are effective, but they have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to treating skin conditions.

Skin Concerns: Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is effective at treating skin concerns like:

  • Blackheads

  • Acne

  • Sebhorreic dermatitis

  • Excess oil production

Skin Concerns: Glycolic Acid

Alternatively, glycolic acid is effective at treating:

  • Signs of premature aging

  • Acne

  • Dull skin

  • Hyperpigmentation

Side Effects

Both salicylic acid and glycolic acid can cause similar side effects like:

  • Dryness

  • Flaking skin

  • Redness

  • Irritation

Because glycolic acid is stronger, it is more likely to cause side effects than salicylic acid.

Is glycolic acid the same as salicylic acid?

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No, glycolic acid is not the same as salicylic acid.

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that is effective at treating hyperpigmentation and signs of aging.

On the other hand, salicylic is a beta hydroxy acid that is used to treat acne prone skin and blackheads.

While they are both categorized as exfoliating acids, both acids work differently and different benefits.

Should I use salicylic acid or glycolic acid?

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If you have mature skin or hyperpigmentation, you should use glycolic acid.

However, if you have acne prone or oily skin, you should use salicylic acid.

Is glycolic or salicylic acid better?

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Glycolic acid is better at treating mild hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.

On the other hand, salicylic acid is better for people with acne prone or sensitive skin.

Both glycolic acid and salicylic can help treat acne breakouts and unwanted skin texture.

Can I use salicylic acid and glycolic acid together?

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To avoid irritation, you should not layer salicylic acid and glycolic acid together.

It’s pretty similar to how you should avoid using salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide together.

However, you can consider using them at different times of day if you want to use both in your skincare routine.

For example, you can try using salicylic acid in the morning and glycolic acid at night.

Just be sure to monitor your skin for signs of irritation like redness or itchiness.

If irritation does occur, stop using exfoliating acids and focus on barrier repair instead.

Summary: Glycolic Acid vs Salicylic Acid

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In conclusion, both glycolic and salicylic have effective exfoliating properties, but they work differently.

Glycolic acid is an AHA that is more effective at treating dark spots and signs of aging.

Further, salicylic acid products are more effective at treating acne prone skin and other oily skin concerns.

While the two can be used together, you should take caution to avoid overexfoliating and inducing irritation.

However, when used correctly, these exfoliating acids can be incredibly effective additions to your skincare routine.

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