By Stephanie Chandler

Aging is a fact of life; however, many people choose to fight the signs of aging and the cosmetics industry continues to answer the call for new products that can reduce wrinkles and make skin appear younger looking. In fact, several beauty companies offer a variety of anti-aging facial creams, cleansers, exfoliants, toners, serums and lotions featuring retinol and glycolic acid that claim to make you look and feel younger.

Makeup session for a pretty woman
credit: Goodluz/iStock/Getty Images
Many anti-aging creams include retinol and glycolic acids.

Mode of Action

Glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid made from the sugar cane plant, loosens the bonds between dead skin cells making it easier to remove the top layers of skin. This acid also breaks down skin, thereby speeding up the skin renewal process. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that is so small it is able to penetrate through to the lower levels of skin where collagen and elastin reside. Retinol is able to actually communicate with the cells, encouraging them to function normally and promote regular cell renewal.

Benefits of Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is used in bleaching and skin lightening products as it helps to speed up the fading process. It is also an effective exfoliant for removing dead skin cells, which makes it beneficial in acne treatments. Facial creams and lotions that include glycolic acid help make skin smooth, reduce hyperpigmentation and deep clean the pores. Glycolic acid can also be found in body washes, hair care products to deep clean the scalp, foot care products to help remove thick skin, and hand and nail care products to smooth and brighten the skin, cuticle and nails.

Benefits of Retinol

Retinol is used in a variety of lotions and creams to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, smooth fine lines and repair damage from the sun. Retinol serums are available that are similar to the creams, but are formulated with enhanced absorption to penetrate into deeper layers of the skin. Retinol is also found in many treatments for hands, lips and the skin around the eyes. Retinol can also help to unclog pores, so it is used in some acne treatments.

Side Effects

Glycolic acid may induce redness, flaking or a burning sensation. In rare cases, and usually those involving the higher concentration chemical peels, it may cause inflammation, infection and skin discoloration. Retinol may cause a warming sensation, redness, itching and scaling of the skin.


Both glycolic acid and retinol cause skin to be sensitive to sunlight so always wear sunscreen and protect your skin from exposure while using these products. Those with sensitive skin are more susceptible to side effects, so always test a new product on a small patch of skin prior to use.