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The Difference Between Salicylic Acid and Glycolic Acid

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While there are some similarities between salicylic and glycolic acids, especially in their uses in the cosmetic care industry, there are also important major differences in their applications and physical attributes. Glycolic acid is odorless and is derived from glycol. Absent of color, ethylene glycol is used in making inks, polishes and antifreeze. Glycolic acid is naturally found in grapes that have not ripened yet. For coloring and for use as a catalyst, glycolic acid is made synthetically. Salicylic acid is the base compound for aspirin. Deriving from the willow tree bark, the early form known as "salicin" was discovered in 1838. When salicin is dissolved in water, it becomes salicylic acid. Aspirin, otherwise known as acetylsalicylic acid, is used for reducing fever and for relieving muscle pain.

Salicylic Acid and Insulin

In 1927, John Jacob Abel and his research team discovered how to effectively lower blood sugar levels using crystallized insulin, and for this, he is credited with discovering the basis for dialysis. Salicylic acid solutions are also used to treat calluses. Additionally, for psoriasis, it is used to slow the multiplication of cells and to encourage healing by drying up the affected skin cells. Salicylic acid can also be used to treat skin inflammation. Acetylsalicylic acid is found in many medicines created to relieve pain and is the synthetic form of salicylic acid.

Hydroxy Treatments

Glycolic acid is also known as alpha-hydroxy acid. Glycolic acids stimulate collagen growth and pull in water molecules. Salicylic acid is known as beta-hydroxy acid. It helps treat acne flare-ups and exfoliates the skin. Both acids are used for improving skin texture, with alpha-hydroxy acid known for use in skin peel solutions.

Glycolic Acid in Antifreeze

As a main ingredient in antifreeze, glycolic acid remains the ingredient of choice due to its ability to provide protection against extreme hot and cold temperatures. The low cost and availability adds to its benefits. One drawback is that since glycolic acid draws in water molecules, the product quantity degrades once opened. The quality is affected due to dilution after the moisture absorption. Ongoing studies focus on finding compatibility metals that work in conjunction with glycolic acid to prolong the life of auto parts and limit labor costs.

Salicylic Analgesics

While aspirin and acetaminophens (non-aspirin substitutes) are non-narcotic analgesics--a pain relieving drug that does not affect consciousness--other kinds of analgesics may include morphine, codeine and meperidine. These drugs are not available without a prescription due to their dependency-causing nature.


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