Experts Say This Acid Is Like a Magic Eraser for Blackheads
Oh, blackheads. Let us count the ways we hate you. You pester our skin with tiny black pinprick blemishes that are equal parts stubborn and exasperating. It seems like no matter how diligent we think we're being with our skincare routine, there are always a few rogue blackheads that refuse to leave our pores, littering the skin across our nose, chin, or forehead. They just sit there, taunting us. "Will you stop at nothing?" we yell while shaking our fists to the sky and waiting for our pore-extracting face mask to work its magic.
As far as anti-blackhead skincare goes, we've tried our fair share. Some products have worked wonders (like select retinol serums and an under-the-radar Nordic Silt Mask), while others have left much to be desired. One of our all-time favourite blackhead-removing product categories, though, has to be our varied collection of glycolic acid exfoliators. According to experts, our love of glycolic acid is founded on reason because the powerful skincare ingredient is basically the closest thing there is to a blackhead magic eraser.
According to Heather Wilson, licensed esthetician and director of brand development at InstaNatural, "Glycolic acid is an incredibly effective ingredient for reducing and clearing blackheads because it is an alpha hydroxy acid with a smaller molecule, which means it can penetrate deeper into the pores to dissolve excess dirt, sebum, and pore-clogging skin cells. While that action alone helps to dissolve the oil and dirt that causes blackheads, it also supports cell turnover, which means your skin is creating new, healthier skin cells at a more rapid pace, which results in clearer skin."
Glycolic acid, in regard to blackhead removal, brings about mixed reactions. Some people are overjoyed to have a new effective blackhead-busting skincare ingredient to try, while others remain skeptical. This might be due to the fact that they've tried other acids in the past, such as lactic acid, to no avail. "Lactic acid is also an alpha hydroxy acid, but since its molecule is larger, it doesn't penetrate quite as deeply as glycolic acid," Wilson explains. "Because of that, Glycolic Acid is more powerful and effective at ridding blackheads on the skin. Lactic acid will help with blackheads as well, but it tends to work more on the surface of the skin versus deeper into the pores." In fact, glycolic acid has the smallest molecule size out of all AHAs—not just lactic acid. That's according to Edyta Jarosz, lead aesthetician at PFrankMD Skin Salon and global brand ambassador for MDNA Skin. "It has the smallest molecules in the group so it is able to penetrate skin deeply and easily, making it the most effective for treating fine lines, acne, blackheads, oiliness, etc. Chemical peels use a high percentage of this acid, and it can be very effective if done safely and properly."
As far as specific glycolic acid products go, Wilson recommends this InstaNatural serum, which is combined with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to provide antioxidants and hydration. "Glycolic acid is a powerful ingredient and should be introduced into skin care routines slowly," she says. "For those new to glycolic acid, start with a gentle product, such as the InstaNatural Glycolic Acid Serum ($30), every other day for one to two weeks." Only then, after ensuring your skin tolerates the ingredient, should you increase the frequency of use. Or you may consider trying a peel. "A weekly (or biweekly) glycolic peel is a great product to use because it will provide a visible improvement in the tone and texture of your skin," Wilson explains. "Additionally, using a glycolic acid serum or cream in your regular nighttime routine is a great way to maintain the results of your weekly peel."
We like to use these peel pads from Cane + Austin, which have 30% glycolic acid (plus a bevy of other safe-for-skin acids) to slough away dead skin, oil, and pore-clogging debris. We use them a couple times a week after we wash our face and before we add moisturiser. They feel tingly and refreshing. Plus, they're so effective at exfoliating, we can see a visible difference in the way our makeup applies the next day. It looks smoother and more refined.
These First Aid Beauty exfoliating pads work similarly to the Cane + Austin ones. We use them after we cleanse our faces and before we apply moisturisers and serums. A combination of glycolic and lactic acids exfoliate, dissolve blackheads, and smooth the surface of the skin, while cucumber tones and lemon peel and licorice impart radiance. We've been using them for years; this product is kind of a classic in our skincare collections.