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Glycolic Acid vs Salicylic Acid For Acne: What Is The Difference For Men?

Think of acids like exfoliants – just like a facial scrub, they help dissolve dead skin, unclog pores, and prevent breakouts. But when it comes to choosing the right acid for your skin type, there are a few glycolic acid vs salicylic acid benefits that you’ll need to keep in mind.

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What Is A Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which is just a fancy name that refers to its class and the arrangement of its molecules.

It’s known for being especially effective when it comes to getting rid of top-layer debris. It won’t travel that far down into your skin; instead, it’ll work away at dead skin and bacteria resting on the surface.

By sticking to that top layer of your skin, glycolic acid is great at improving your tone, tautness, and pore size. You’ll find it in a lot of anti-aging products because it spurs collagen production, which in turn shrinks wrinkles.

One thing to be careful of: glycolic acid makes your skin more vulnerable to UV light damage, so you need to wear sunscreen if you’re using it.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Glycolic Acid?


• Glycolic acid dissolves dead skin, bacteria, and other debris resting on the top layer of your skin.

• Glycolic acid improves your skin tone, giving you a clearer, more uniform complexion.

• Because it helps with tone, Glycolic acid is also a good treatment for hyperpigmentation and sun spots.

• Glycolic acid encourages collagen production, which shrinks wrinkles and tightens skin.


• Glycolic acid makes your skin more vulnerable to the sun. Wear sunscreen!

• Glycolic acid is only so-so at preventing future breakouts. It doesn’t penetrate into the deeper layers of your skin.

• Glycolic acid is not great for oily skin. Your natural oils will block it from doing its job.

Is It OK To Use Glycolic Acid Everyday?

Most men can safely use glycolic acid every day.

It’s easy to apply, too. It’ll likely come in a tube of liquid – just dab a little bit onto a cotton ball, spread it over your skin, and wait for it to dry before you apply any other skin care products (like that sunscreen we talked about).

If you have dry or sensitive skin, glycolic acid might not be for you. Start out with a product that has an extremely low concentration and only use it once a day. If you experience any irritation, inflammation, itching, or burning, stop using it immediately. 

What Is A Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is beta hydroxy acid (BHA). It’s oil soluble, so it can get deeper into your skin.

While it does lightly exfoliate your top skin layer, salicylic acid is better known for getting down into your pores to dissolve excess oil. This prevents acne and breakouts in the long run, and it’s significantly better for controlling oily skin.

Think of salicylic acid as a long-term solution to some of your short-term skin care problems. It’s great for keeping acne, zits, clogged pores, and oil under control. It’s also decent at helping with hyperpigmentation, but glycolic acid is better known for that benefit.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Salicylic Acid?


• Salicylic acid is a long-term solution to bad acne breakouts.

• Salicylic acid is one of the best skin care ingredients to control oily skin.

• Salicylic acid travels deep into your skin to unclog pores and prevent zits.

• Salicylic acid can treat hyperpigmentation.


• Salicylic acid is more likely to dry out your skin. You need to pair it with a strong moisturizer.

Salicylic acid can be a skin irritant for dry and sensitive skin.

Can I Use Glycolic Acid And Salicylic Acid Together?

You can safely use glycolic acid and salicylic acid together daily if you feel that you need both to effectively fight breakouts. Just be aware that it might dry out your skin, so you’ll need to invest in a really good moisturizer to keep yourself hydrated. 

For those of you who are just starting out with acid exfoliants, I recommend incorporating them into your skin care routine one at a time so that you don’t experience any irritation. (And if you do have a breakout or a rash, it’ll be easy to identify which acid caused it.)

They work as a great tag-team, with glycolic exfoliating the top layer of your skin, and salicylic getting beneath your skin to unclog pores and prevent acne.

Like any other skincare product, just be sure to let the first one dry before you apply the next one. And start with products that have a low acid concentration, working your way up to higher concentrations as needed. You’ll want to start out your skincare routine with a great men’s face wash before you apply either acid to your skin.

Glycolic Acid vs Salicylic Acid For Men: Final Verdict

If it’s acne and oil that you’re looking to control, salicylic acid is the way to go. For sun spots, blemishes, and complexion issues, use glycolic acid.

The two have very different strengths, and everyone’s skin reacts differently to different chemicals, so it’ll take some experimentation on your part to see which is best for you. And don’t think of them as mutually exclusive. Even though I wouldn’t recommend starting out using both at once, you can work your way up to using both every day for best results.
Lots of the best men’s toners contain either salicylic acid or glycolic acid – read the ingredient label to figure out which it is, and choose accordingly.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.