Why The TikTok Glycolic Acid Trend Is Actually Magic for Your Scalp

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Everybody loves a good hair hack. From TikTok users to beauty blog readers, the discovery of a new ingredient or product to add to your routine is incredibly exciting, especially when that product cures so many common hair woes. Enter glycolic acid. Those dealing with dandruff, dehydration, and flaky scalps have been shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of glycolic acid for hair. Discover more about this scalp-saving ingredient below!

White woman laying on colorful background applying glycolic acid to hair | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Pexels / Arina Shilyaeva)

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (or AHA, as it is commonly seen on product bottles) that can be naturally derived and acts as a gentle exfoliant. AHAs are typically made up of things like sugar cane, cirtus fruits, grapes, and even sour milk. Additionally, the size of the molecule itself is so small, it actually allows the acid to travel further, and deeper, within your skin and hair, making it more effective.

While glycolic acid has been a skincare holy grail for some time, its use for hair and scalp is a relatively new trend. Users on TikTok have pointed out that since the gentle exfoliant works so well on sensitive skin, it must do wonders for sensitive and unbalanced scalps.

Glycolic Acid Hair Benefits

The biggest takeaway from glycolic acid and hair is its ability to help with dandruff. By moisturizing and exfoliating the scalp, glycolic acid will actually help treat and keep dandruff at bay. What’s key here is the gentle exfoliation using the small AHA molecules along with the moisturization. Most other dandruff treatments focus on stripping the scalp of its woes, rather than removing and replacing what it lacks.

On the flip side, glycolic acid can help balance an oily scalp as well. This again harkens back to its exfoliation properties, which in turn increase cell turnover. Regular cell turnover on the scalp, just like on our face, helps balance our skin and keep our follicles happy.

While glycolic acid may become your scalp health holy grail, it is important to remember that all good things come in moderation. Overusing glycolic acid on the scalp or leaving it on too long too frequently can actually cause irritation and further flakiness issues, as well as weaken your hair. Limit your use of this product to once, maybe twice a week if that, and no more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

How to Use Glycolic Acid for Hair

All you need to get started is the glycolic acid of your choice, plus a nourishing shampoo and conditioner. Thirty minutes before you plan to shower, apply the glycolic acid along your scalp between part lines and around the hairline. Do take special care not to let it get into your eyes!

Once you’ve applied, massage the glycolic acid into your scalp to ensure even coverage and penetration. It is typically recommended to let this sit for 30 minutes or less, but definitely not more (remember, prolonged use can cause more irritation). At the buzzer, continue on with your normal showering routine, shampoo, condition, rinse, and repeat as needed.

Best Glycolic Acid Hair Products

Here are some of our favorite glycolic acid recommendations for those ready to start their scalp on a new path.

1. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Exfoliating Toning Solution: $10

The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid Solution is the solution that has been all over TikTok. Not only is this option affordable, but the nozzle on the bottle itself also makes scalp application incredibly easy. Plus, being pure glycolic acid means you can use this on your scalp and your face.

The Ordinary's Glycolic Acid 7% Exfoliating Toning Solution
(Image Source: Ulta.com)

2. The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Scrub: $12.99

This 10 minutes scalp-specific glycolic treatment by The Inkey List is another glycolic acid treatment that comes in an easy-to-apply bottle and has incredible user reviews. Those loyal to the Inkey List say that this glycolic scrub “brought their hair back to life and completely balanced their scalp.”

The Inkey List's Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Scrub
(Image Source: Sephora.com)

3. Oribe’s Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub: $52

A pricier glycolic acid-based scrub option, but Oribe’s reputation precedes them. Oribe’s glycolic acid scrub has the added benefit of being specifically formulated for hair, so the risks aren’t as large. Additionally, the nourishment your lengths will experience from chamomile, cornflower, and peppermint oil will make this scrub worth the price.

Oribe's Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub
(Image Source: Oribe.com)

Looking to learn if glycolic acid is right for your scalp? HERE’s how to find out!