Glycolic Acid: Skincare Superstar


Middle age, technically speaking, is a few years away for me.   But no matter.  It is making its presence known all over my face.  So far its influence may be subtle.  But the message is clear.  The clock can’t be turned back.  There is only one direction.

My skin always held its own.  People thought I looked young for my age.  Everything was always clear, smooth and low maintenance.  For many years my regime involved nothing more than Cetaphil and Ivory bar soap and a moisturizer with some SPF.

I accept that aging is inevitable, and this isn’t a bad thing.  I have earned every laugh line.  A different kind of beauty begins to emerge.  But hey, that pep talk stuff doesn’t really make me feel any better.  I’m not happy with what I have been seeing lately.  My skin looks sallow, hyper-pigmented, and those dreaded fine lines around my eyes that seem to be getting deeper and deeper by the day, well, they’re starting to bug me.

Ugh.  I go to my husband, exasperated, pointing to my face to call out the offenders.  And Husband, shameless liar that he is, claims to see nothing.  I know better.

Okay, maybe I can eat healthier, sleep more, and get more exercise.  All of those things would help in getting my youthful glow back.  But now that things are getting temperamental, I also need to be more diligent when it comes to my products.

About fifteen years ago I paid a visit to my very respected, and then very pregnant, dermatologist.  We got to chatting about skin care, namely wrinkles and acne and the not-so-pretty things that make us miserable.   For many years, my doctor was a dedicated Retin A user.  But with this second pregnancy at middle age, she had to be extra careful.  Using prescription grade cream on her face was a big no-no.  In the end, glycolic acid safely and effectively kept her skin beautifully clear and line free in place of the powerhouse Retin A.  She found something super effective and safe to use during pregnancy.

I had been using Retin A since I was in my mid teens.  I started it as an acne preventative, hoping to stop any problem before it started.  While over the years it did keep my face pimple and wrinkle free, frankly using it was a pain in the bum.  Continuous use required doctor’s visits, runs to the pharmacy, and side effects.  The worst part?  Back in the old days it was about $85 a tube, with no insurance coverage.  Even though my doctor had prescribed it as a medical necessity (okay, maybe she fibbed a little bit here) all insurance companies viewed it as a cosmetic product, and therefore the cost was not covered.

So this long remembered conversation about glycolic acid got me excited.  I had another option, and hopefully a less expensive and more accessible one.

Glycolic acid is commonly known as alpha hydroxy acid (often abbreviated to its famous acronym, AHA) and  is derived from cane sugar and fruit.  It can be found in countless products; cheap, high-end, and everywhere in between.  While over the counter concoctions do not have the powerful punch of their doctor’s office counterparts, they can still be very effective.  And how does glycolic acid work to keep skin looking blemish free and youthful?  Essentially it breaks down the “glue” that holds cells together,  loosening old and damaged skin cells and sloughing them away to reveal the youthful cells that lie underneath.

The glycolic acid strength in the products used in doctor’s offices (like a peel for example) can range from 20% to 70%.   Over the counter cleansers, serums, etc. have a range between 3% and 15%.   But regardless of product strength, what is it about this skincare superstar?  How does it do its job so well at even the lowest concentrations?  It comes down to the science of it, really.  The glycolic acid molecule is small in structure, and therefore easily penetrates the skin.   This is in stark contrast to the larger collagen molecule, which cannot penetrate the skin barrier effectively. That is why, more often than not, collagen moisturizers often feel like they sit atop the skin without absorbing.  While collagen products can still be beneficial, it is something to keep in mind when selecting the best regimen for your skin.

So back to the current state of my face.  Lately I have been inspired to take better care of me, inside and out.  I haven’t used Retin A in years.  And to be honest, I’m not in the mood to make another doctor’s appointment anytime soon, nor am I game for the steep price tag.  I have never forgotten that chat I had with my doctor all those years ago.  Why not get acquainted with glycolic acid?  Surely it can do something about my emerging fine lines and dark spots.

Clinical Resurfacing

It wasn’t long before I found a great product.  Casually flipping through an Avon brochure recently, something new caught my eye:  Anew Clinical Resurfacing Expert.  This 1 ounce serum-like miracle comes packaged in a sleek dropper bottle, and can be yours for the regular price of $38.  A little goes a long way, and it absorbed into my skin lightning fast.  I used it in the morning and under my daytime moisturizer.  At night before bed, I applied it before my heavier night cream.  After only three days, my skin was smooth, I had remarkably better clarity,  and my finest lines disappeared.  The ones that do remain are not nearly as prominent as they were before, and have calmed significantly.  I actually feel completely comfortable going without my trusty tinted moisturizer.  My new glow shouldn’t be hidden anyway.

The product literature mentions the customary slight sting that can happen when applying glycolic acid to the skin, but I did not experience this at all.  If this does happen with any glycolic acid product, wait twenty minutes after cleansing before application.   Also, it is worth noting Avon products sold in the United States do not exceed 10% glycolic acid.  While I am not privy to the actual proprietary formula of the product, the Avon representative I spoke to confirmed this.  So for my sisters out there with more sensitive skin, this lower concentration can be an ideal product for you.

While I was super excited about my awesome Avon find, I wanted to explore some more.  I loved the feel of it, and how quickly it was getting the job done.   But just as its name suggests, the product is, well, a bit “clinical.”  I’m the kind of girl who likes to have many things to play with anyway.  And I pay close attention to the kind of experience a product gives me.  So a lightbulb went off in my head. I decided to revisit an old favorite I had not used in a while.

The lusciously divine Fresh Sugar Face Polish.  Is it a mask?  A facial scrub?  Who cares?  It’s amazing!  I used this product many years ago back when I thought nothing of spending a small fortune on beauty products.  And in those days I was less concerned with the anti-aging benefits and more into the delicious smell and how it made my skin feel.  Now, while I understand the $55 price tag may be a turn off to some, trust me when I say it is worth every cent.  4.4 ounces goes a very long way.

Okay.  So what makes this face mask to die for?  Let’s start with its swoon-worthy list of ingredients.  Plum kernel, grapeseed, macadamia, and meadowfoam seed oils have an amazing way of leaving skin soft and supple.  It is also loaded with delicious, citrusy essential oils (bergamot, lemon, orange, and grapefruit) to enhance mood.  But the real workhorses of the mask?  Finely ground brown sugar, rich with glycolic acid.  And wild strawberry extract, loaded with fruit acid and Vitamin C.

Face Polish

Open face Polish

If you are familiar with the company’s Brown Sugar Body Polish, think of the face mask as a gentler version.  The brown sugar is so finely ground, it is ideal for the more delicate skin of the face.  And while wild strawberry has the starring role on the ingredient list, the citrus oils heavily influence the scent.  Simply delicious.  If Fresh was a religion, between its body polish and face mask I would worship at its church.  That is how much I love this stuff.

A nice perk?  The packaging is heavy, and the jar looks fabulous on my bathroom counter.  So delightful!  I know I will recycle the jar and use it when I make my own face, body, or foot scrubs.

I always use my more delectable stuff when I can take my time and relax.  Purchasing this product for the first time in a very long time, I went back to my old familiar ritual.   I applied it during my soothing salt bath, and gave it plenty of time to work its magic.  Ten delicious minutes later and my skin was crazy glowing and supple.  With all of its oils and richness, at first I was a bit worried the mask would make my face break out.  But my concerns were completely unwarranted.  The acids from the sugar and strawberry keep acne at bay.  And oils are actually a good thing for aging skin like mine.

Wrinkles sure aren’t fun.  But I think my discoloration issues end up aging me even more.  Both the Anew Clinical Resurfacing Expert and the Fresh Sugar Face Polish do such a great job at many things.  Yes, my lines have disappeared.  But my skin is so beautifully evened out, when it was the discoloration that was bothering me the most.   If I could sum it up in one word, I would say my skin looks brighter.  And with my newfound glow, the more stubborn, deeper wrinkles don’t seem to matter to me nearly as much.

In the past few months, I often heard that I looked “tired.”  And my mom often told me my color wasn’t good.  I know these comments were well meaning and came from a place of concern.  And living with chronic illness can do a number on your skin, no matter what you throw at it to combat the problem.     But since using my Avon Anew Resurfacing Expert, and pairing it with my indulgent Fresh nourishing mask, the comments are now much different.  Everyone is telling me I look more awake and healthier.   And that is one serious confidence booster.  I couldn’t be happier, and in a way I feel just a bit more alive.

The good news for all of us?  There are countless products out there, for every budget.  And while I did find my two favorites, there is still room in my heart more.  I look forward to discovering what else is waiting for me out there.

For more information about glycolic acid and skincare, please visit:

For more information on Avon Anew Resurfacing Expert, and helpful customer reviews, please visit:

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