Glycolic Acid vs. Salicylic Acid: Which Is Better?

Have you ever been puzzled about the dissimilarity between glycolic acid and salicylic acid? You’re not alone. Numerous individuals are baffled by the distinction between these two chemicals, which are frequently utilized as a part of skincare products.

Glycolic acid and salicylic are considered chemical peels that should only come in contact with skin when used carefully. They lightly exfoliate, penetrate deep into your pores for an intense cleanse.

However, these active ingredients also have the power of removing dead cells from the skin’s surface, which can cause skin photosensitivity, so this is something you’ll want to monitor during application. 

Both glycolic acid and salicylic acid benefit your skin, but they also work differently. In this article, we’ll compare the differences between these two elements to help you determine which one works best based on what type of skincare needs you might have. 

Key Takeaways

  • A salicylic acid exfoliant is oil-soluble; on the other hand, glycolic acid is water-soluble
  • The distinction between the two types of exfoliants is that AHAs (glycolic) are naturally occurring water-soluble acids derived from sweet fruits. This acid helps to remove the outer layer of the skin.
  • BHAs (salicylic) are oil-soluble, allowing them to get into the pores easily. This deep cleaning capability makes this type of acid better suited for oily skin than an AHA.
  • Glycolic acid exfoliant removes dead skin cells from the skin’s surface, helping with rough texture and acne. Salicylic helps prevent acne by removing excess oil from clogged pores and contains anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Each has its own benefits if you’re looking for one or the other, but it ultimately depends on what you’re looking for from your skincare products.

What is Glycolic Acid? What Does Glycolic Acid Do?

Glycolic acid, a natural component derived from sugar cane, is an excellent exfoliant and a type of AHA that’s great for fighting signs of aging. It functions as both an anti-aging treatment and skin peeling when applied topically.


Furthermore, glycolic acid is one of the most versatile and effective ingredients found in skincare. It not only helps to peel off dead skin cells, but it also sloughs them away so that new healthy ones can stick better. This makes your face feel smoother, softer, brighter because there’s less glue holding everything together. 

This type of alpha-hydroxy acid penetrates deeper into the pores for a more thorough exfoliation than other AHAs. Unfortunately, glycolic acid can irritate the most sensitive skin.

Benefits of Glycolic Acid:

  • Reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging
  • Treats hyperpigmentation, fade dark spots
  • Smooths out uneven skin tone
  • Stimulates collagen production
  • It helps other skincare treatments work better

Is Glycolic Acid Right for Your Skin Type?

Glycolic acid is a mild AHA suitable for most skin types, except individuals with sensitive skin. It’s especially beneficial for people with mature or aging skin since it can help peel away flaky, dry skin, smooth wrinkles, fine lines, and even brighten your complexion.

It’s a great option for those with oily skin, as the exfoliating action can help get rid of excess oil and clogged pores. If you battle hyperpigmentation or dull skin tone, it’s worth trying glycolic acid.

After a few weeks of treatment, glycolic acid’s exfoliating action and low acidic pH might induce redness or peel in some individuals. So, start slowly by applying only every other day or three times per week to avoid these harmful effects

It’s essential to always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher while using a glycolic acid exfoliant.

Uses For Glycolic Acid That You Didn’t Know About

The smallest of all AHAs, Glycolic acid penetrates more profoundly than other types. This makes it an excellent exfoliant frequently used in chemical peels to remove dead skin cells from your pores. Plus, this powerful ingredient can help easier treat acne and hyperpigmentation.

Additionally, it’s a well-known anti-aging ingredient that helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It also has benefits for people with sun-damaged skin because of its ability to encourage cellular turnover, which reduces the appearance of age spots. 

What is Salicylic Acid? And, What Does Salicylic Acid Do?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid present naturally in willow bark and wintergreen leaves. It’s also oil-soluble, meaning it’ll penetrate through your skin’s natural oils to get rid of clogged pores and impurities. 

In addition, it’s similar to glycolic acid exfoliant because it reduces the bond of proteins responsible for holding together dead skin cells, allowing them to flake off more easily. It also has mild anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. 

Salicylic acid is an excellent choice for individuals who have trouble with blackheads, whiteheads, or painful blemishes since it is a powerful pore cleanser.

Benefits of Salicylic Acid:

  • It helps prevent acne, blackheads, and whiteheads
  • It works wonders for oily, acne-prone, blemish-prone skin
  • Salicylic acid even out the skin tone and reduce the look of dark spots, hyperpigmentation
  • Smoothens out the skin’s appearance
  • Treats ingrown hairs effectively

Is Salicylic Acid Right for Your Skin Type?

Salicylic acid is compatible with most skin types. People with oily or acne-prone skin are more likely to benefit from regular usage of this ingredient since it may penetrate the pores and decrease sebum (oil) formation, which causes acne.

People who have combination skin can profit from using products that contain salicylic acid to treat breakouts without making other areas of the face too dry or irritated. If you have uneven skin tone or dullness, try using products with salicylic acid. 

It will clear out dirt from your pores and can even improve the appearance of greasy/dull complexions. A salicylic acid exfoliant is a safe and effective treatment for acne, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation in darker skin types.

Similarities Between Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid

Below are the few similarities that can be found between glycolic and salicylic acid:

  • Glycolic acid and salicylic acid are potent pores exfoliates.
  • They both help reduce acne-related scars, sun damage, and other signs of aging by exfoliating away old cells to disclose new ones.
  • They also help to smooth the texture of the skin and lighten the complexion.
  • Glycolic and salicylic acid both assist with the appearance of dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and age spots.

It’s vital to note that not all skin types need the same products. There are many different kinds of acids in skincare, and you might need more than one kind depending on your personal needs for specific skin issues.

What are the Distinctions Between Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid?


The primary differences between glycolic and salicylic acid are as follows:

  • The sun is more likely to cause damage to your skin if you use glycolic acid rather than salicylic acid.
  • Glycolic acid is a water-soluble substance that can quickly get into the pores of your skin to treat acne. Salicylic acid is oil-soluble and penetrates the surface of pores to prevent them from becoming clogged and obstructed.
  • Salicylic acid is a less-drying acid with anti-inflammatory properties, while glycolic acid can irritate more sensitive skin.

Which One is Preferable for your Skin Type: Salicylic Acid or Glycolic Acid?

Not sure which is the best? If you’ve oily, acne-prone, or sensitive skin, salicylic acid or beta hydroxy acids are a better choice. However, if your priority is sun damage or improved skin hydration, glycolic acid or alpha hydroxy acids can assist.

Which One Should You Use If You Have Acne?

Both glycolic acid and salicylic acid are effective acne fighters and skin exfoliators that assist in the removal of dead cells. It’s critical to consider your skin type when determining which one is best for you. 

Salicylic acid works better on individuals who have acne or oily skin since it goes deep into pores and eliminates extra oil. This is significant since sebum can clog pores, increasing the chance of acne breakouts. Excess sebum also promotes the development of bacteria that may trigger pimples. 

While both acids can assist with acne because of their skin exfoliation abilities, beta hydroxy acids have a more significant effect. This is because salicylic acid can break down oil, dirt, and impurities that may be clogging your pores.

List of Best Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid Products 

For those looking for the best glycolic acid and salicylic acid products, then look no further. We’ve compiled a list of some excellent options to help you achieve your desired outcome.

Top Glycolic Acid Products:

1. No products found.

  • Lightly exfoliate the skin
  • Reduces inflammation and skin sensitivity
  • Eliminates dead skin cells, reduces wrinkles and fine lines

No products found.

2. No products found.

  • It contains 5% glycolic acid that gently exfoliates
  • Great for combination and dry skin
  • Minimize enlarged pores

No products found.

Top Salicylic Acid Products:

1. No products found.

  • Lessens excess sebum, blackheads, and breakouts
  • It is formulated with 2% salicylic acid
  • Oil-free, paraben-free, fragrance-free

No products found.

2. No products found.

  • Non-abrasive and mild leave on exfoliator
  • Unclog pores, even out skin tone, improves the look of dullness
  • It can be used daily by all the skin types

No products found.


Glycolic acid and salicylic acid are two types of acne-fighting acids that can clear away dead skin cells, fight the signs of aging, and treat acne. Glycolic acid is excellent at combating the effects of age, whereas salicylic acid is excellent for treating acne.

If you’re a novice at incorporating AHA and BHA products into your skincare routine, start slow and begin with a small amount. If you experience itching or redness, give yourself time to adapt by slowly adding the ingredient to your skincare routine.

Finally, whether you use glycolic or salicylic acid, or both, always wear sunscreen with a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher to safeguard your skin from sun damage. If we have to choose the best suitable products for all skin types, it would be:

  • Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
  • Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner

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