Is Glycolic Acid Good For Your Hair? Uncovering The Truth
Glycolic acid for hair seems to be all the rage on TikTok lately, with users raving about the transformative powers of this alpha hydroxy acid. Glycolic acid provides incredible exfoliation benefits for skin, leading beauty lovers to wonder – all the while, it iterates a question.
“Glycolic Acid For Hair Side Effects”? We investigated the science behind using this chemical exfoliant on hair and uncovered some surprising truths.
Glycolic Acid For Hair Side Effects
What Is Glycolic Acid?
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugar cane that penetrates the skin’s surface layers to dissolve dead skin cell bonds. This chemical exfoliation reveals smoother, brighter, and more even-toned skin over time with regular use.
In skincare, glycolic acid treats concerns like acne, wrinkles, dullness, sun spots, and melasma thanks to its resurfacing and collagen-boosting abilities. Glycolic peels performed by dermatologists take the benefits up a notch for correcting pigmentation disorders, smoothing scars, and refining pores.
Given glycolic’s proven performance on the skin, TikTok users spawned the idea of applying The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution or glycolic acid cleansers directly to the scalp. Massaging it supposedly dissolves dead skin cells, lifts away dirt and flakes, enhances hair softness, and minimizes dandruff. But is it truly effective and safe?
Benefits of Glycolic Acid for Hair Health
The benefits of glycolic acid primarily come from its deep cleaning and hydrating abilities. By removing dead skin cells and debris from the scalp and hair follicles, several advantages occur:
Helps Treat Dandruff
Dandruff forms due to a buildup of dead skin that mixes with scalp oils and becomes flaky. Glycolic acid can theoretically dissolve the bonds of this dead, dry skin to keep flaky dandruff at bay.
Removes Product Buildup
Like on facial skin, product residue, hard water deposits, dirt, and pollution particles cling to the scalp and hair shafts over time. Glycolic acid breaks down these bonds, allowing buildup to rinse away quickly.
Enhances Hair Softness & Shine
Exfoliating away debris also smooths the hair cuticle flat so light better reflects for enhanced shine. Glycolic may also improve moisture levels within the hair shaft for touchable softness.
Prevents Ingrown Hairs
Ingrown hairs form when dead skin traps emerging hairs beneath the surface. Glycolic gently lifts this dead skin to allow hair to exit follicles and grow usually correctly.
Maintains Healthy Scalp PH
Glycolic acid makes the scalp environment more acidic, hovering between 3-4 on the PH scale. This closely matches hair and skin’s naturally acidic state for optimal function.
Potential Side Effects of Glycolic Acid for Hair
While glycolic acid offers many theoretical benefits for hair health, it does not come without risk. Using such a potent chemical exfoliant incorrectly or overdoing application frequency can cause more harm than good.
Be aware of these common side effects:
Too much glycolic acid too quickly can irritate the scalp, causing redness, stinging, dry patches, and peeling. Those with sensitive skin must approach slowly and dilute before applying.
Excessive use scrubs away too many layers, damaging the scalp barrier. This leads to transepidermal water loss, poor moisture retention, and vulnerability to external aggressors. Hair may become brittle and dry.
Increased Sun Sensitivity
Glycolic acid thins the skin’s protective outer layer and decreases melanin production. This makes the scalp susceptible to sunburn, further irritation, and hyperpigmentation.
In sporadic cases, some experience actual hair loss, likely due to poor scalp health from stripping oils or disturbing hair growth cycles. Loss is usually temporary but very distressing nonetheless.
Tips for Using Glycolic Acid on Hair Safely
Using glycolic acid too frequently or in concentrations too high for your scalp tolerance carries risk. Most skincare experts advise these precautions:
- Do a patch test first before applying glycolic acid all over the scalp.
- Start with lower percentages under 5% and less frequent applications like weekly.
- Monitor the scalp closely and cease use if any irritation occurs. Providing a break allows the scalp barrier to heal before trying again.
- Never apply glycolic acid the same day as coloring hair or perms – wait at least 2 weeks.
- Rinse out thoroughly after 5-10 minutes max to avoid over-exfoliating. Leaving on overnight is too harsh for most.
- Always apply sun protection to the scalp before heading outdoors.
- Increase concentration and frequency very gradually if lower doses are well tolerated. But never exceed 10% strength.
What The Experts Say
Most haircare experts advise caution with at-home glycolic acid scalp treatments due to the potential for misuse. New York City dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner warns, “Using at-home chemical peels carries risk. Glycolic acid can cause skin irritation, especially in higher concentrations.”
Pre-formulated glycolic acid products designed specifically for the scalp and hair may offer a safer option, as the glycolic dosage is calibrated not to disturb the scalp barrier. However, even professional in-office glycolic acid peels rarely exceed 30%.
So proceed cautiously if using glycolic acid skincare products off-label directly on the scalp. While the promised benefits seem impressive on paper and social media, the horror stories of hair loss also haunt us! Consult a trichologist or dermatologist to ensure usage is aligned with your scalp’s sensitivities. Patch testing can’t be emphasized enough.
Glycolic acid isn’t inherently damaging to hair. It offers theorized benefits like enhanced shine, minimized dandruff, cleared buildup, and improved moisture retention when appropriately used at ideal frequencies based on tolerance. However, misusing glycolic acid at too high dosages or frequencies perpendicular to the scalp’s needs poses a considerable risk of irritation and over-exfoliation, leading to transepidermal water loss and increased susceptibility to sun damage.
So proceed cautiously, understanding that glycolic acid should not be slapped haphazardly onto the scalp without thoughtfulness regarding concentration, application method, frequency, and sun protection measures. Get a professional’s opinion on usage rates tailored to your scalp health. And ease slowly into incorporation should you choose to hop aboard the glycolic acid for hair care!