Skip to Content

What Is Glycolic Acid for Hair | & Do You Need It?

Glycolic acid is a hygroscopic water-soluble crystalline solid many people use for hair and scalp care. Read on to learn more about its benefits and when you need it. 

What Is Glycolic Acid for Hair?

Glycolic acid helps penetrate the cuticle layer of the hair shaft to enhance softness and manageability while also protecting the hair.

This product is beneficial as a long-lasting hair and scalp treatment for natural and chemically-treated hair. Glycolic acid offers several advantages when used regularly, including: 

  • Effective dandruff and dermatitis treatment
  • Moisturizes and rehydrates the hair and scalp 
  • Protects hair from heat-treatment styling 
  • Adds lubricity to the hair strands to minimize tangling and friction with brushing or combing
  • Maintains the proper pH balance for hair and scalp
  • Potent solution for maintaining soft, manageable hair

So, do you need glycolic acid, and how often should you use it? Let’s explore these vital questions. 

Is Glycolic Acid a Magic Serum?

Although it can be hard to understand how glycolic acid helps your hair and skin, the science behind it is simple. Glycolic acid, also known as hydroxyacetic acid, is a type of AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) found in various natural forms.

This excellent product provides exfoliation, moisture, and deep cleansing and is helpful for pH balancing to have better skin and hair health. 

It’s Exfoliating

This natural substance offers exfoliating properties, which help to dissolve and separate the molecules between dead skin cells on the scalp. 

Rather than including abrasive ingredients to rub dead skin cells off the scalp like other products, glycolic acid is a gentler method of treating dandruff and dry skin issues like dermatitis by shedding dry skin. 

It’s Moisturizing

Glycolic acid helps enhance the production of hyaluronic acid that occurs naturally in the human body. In addition, this substance maintains moisture in the tissues, making it vital for a healthy scalp. 

Glycolic acid provides additional moisture to maintain soft, shiny locks and encourages the skin’s surface to replenish with healthy cells. 

It’s Ideal for Deep Cleansing 

The deep cleansing attributes of glycolic acid come from its small molecule size that can easily penetrate the skin. It helps loosen the bonds between dead skin cells, removes the buildup of oil, dirt, bacteria, and product

It also strips away excessive sebum from the scalp. As a result, the scalp and hair stay cleaner and allow moisture to penetrate adequately for optimal health. 

It’s Helpful for pH Balancing 

Because glycolic acid strips away the buildup of oils and other substances, it leaves a clean slate where its exfoliating properties encourage cell regrowth and speed up skin regeneration.

As a result, it kickstarts the body’s self-healing attributes, so your scalp starts producing healthy cells. Maintaining a proper pH balance on the scalp is beneficial for minimizing dandruff or dermatitis symptoms and having hair that is not dull, limp, or brittle. 

How to Use Glycolic Acid for Hair

Woman treating her hair with glycolic acid

Mr.Cheangchai Noojuntuk/Shutterstock

Although glycolic acid seems easy enough to use and is readily available in several strengths and compositions, it’s essential that you follow the application directions. 

Improper use will not provide the outcomes you are looking for, and it can cause your hair and skin to deteriorate or worsen. So, what’s the best way to use glycolic acid for healthier hair and skin?

Let’s examine the key points.

Use the Right Product 

Unfortunately, not all glycolic acid products are equal. For example, skincare companies offer a wide range of items that contain various strengths of glycolic acid to treat numerous issues. 25% glycolic acid serum used on your face is unsuitable for your hair and scalp regime. 

Instead, carefully select a glycolic acid product made specifically for hair and scalp treatment. These items typically carry between 7% and 10% concentration for effectiveness. 

Perform a Patch Test 

Anytime you begin to use a new product on your skin, you should perform a patch test. This way, you only treat a small area and monitor it for any side effects or reactions before applying it to your entire head.

However, there are some circumstances where glycolic should not be part of your weekly routine.

If you have any concerns about using this product, it’s best to consult a professional dermatologist beforehand. Once you know glycolic acid is safe to use on your skin, you can add it to your weekly regime. 

Follow the Directions 

Although glycolic acid is a natural product, it can still cause damage or adverse side effects when you don’t follow the application directions. Therefore, you should only use this hair and scalp treatment once or twice weekly.

Including it daily is unnecessary, and it can be harmful if you use it too much. Depending on the concentration of the glycolic acid, the directions may require you to apply it anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes before you wash your hair. 

Keep in mind that you don’t want to leave it on too long without washing it out, either. But, like applying it too often, leaving it on the scalp for an extended time can also dry out the skin and hair. 

Is Using Glycolic Acid Right for You?

Of course, everyone’s hair and skin are unique, making some products less beneficial than others. So before you hop on the wagon and join others already using glycolic acid for their hair, it’s essential to know if it will be right for you. 

Glycolic acid may not be the ideal hair and scalp solution for you if: 

  • You have extremely sensitive skin
  • Have undergone scalp rebonding or scalp straightening treatments 
  • You have open scalp wounds 
  • Possess a pre-existing medical scalp condition 

It’s essential to recognize that glycolic acid is a short-term treatment, and overuse can create irritation or enhance scalp problems. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Image of a bottle of glycolic acid for hair on a shelf

If you have any other concerns about glycolic acid and its use, check out these frequently asked questions below. 

Is glycolic acid safe to use on hair?

Glycolic acid is entirely safe to use when adhering to the application guidelines of once or twice per week. Overuse more than two times per week, can minimize any benefit and not provide effective results.

Can you use glycolic acid too often?

Yes, glycolic acid treatment works best when you include it once or twice weekly. However, if you leave it on your scalp and hair too long or use it too often, it can dry out the hair strands and scalp and cause skin irritation.

Are all glycolic acid products the same?

No, several glycolic acid products offer different strengths for the most effective results. Therefore, you should not use a 25% solution meant for your face as part of your hair and scalp routine.

Is glycolic acid good for all hair types?

When used correctly, glycolic acid suits all hair types, including chemically-treated and bleached hair. As a result, with the proper concentration and application routine, it will not fade hair color or cause drastic side effects.

Is glycolic acid and salicylic acid the same?

Although you can use some glycolic acid and salicylic acid products in similar applications, they do have differences. For example, glycolic acid is less drying than the alternative as it is water-soluble, while salicylic acid is oil-soluble.

So, What Is Glycolic Acid for Hair?

Glycolic acid for hair is a natural product that can help you reach better hair and scalp health. This product is beneficial for treating dandruff or dermatitis, providing extra moisture, and helping to strengthen hair strands for a full head of healthy locks.

However, it is not a miracle cure, and you should follow application directions to prevent any ill effects from overuse.  Ultimately, it’s up to you whether or not you want to incorporate it into your hair care and styling routine.