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Are you looking to look baby-faced in spring? Same! A glycolic acid peel is the best option.

Quick facts:

  • This chemical peel uses an alpha hydroxy acid made from beet sugar or cane to exfoliate the skin. It also includes other ingredients.
  • Glycolic acid is both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and it can be used to treat many skin conditions.
  • Glycolic acid can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions. While the milder versions can be done at home, medium and deep peels should be performed by a licensed aesthetician or cosmetologist.

The science behind smoothing magic

Glycolic acid is a natural exfoliant that removes skin cells and other debris from the skin’s outer and middle layers.

You can get a deeper peel by choosing a treatment that contains a greater percentage of glycolic acid.

Reasons to use it

Glycolic acid peels can be used to treat a variety of skin issues. However, a professional will need to perform more intense, deeper treatments.

Reduce acne scarring

Acne occurs when your pores become blocked by dead skin, bacteria, oil, or other substances. Sometimes your hair follicles may be to blame.

Every one of your pores acts as a door to a hair-follicle. If your follicles produce excessive oil, it can trap dead skin cells, bacteria, and cause a breakout.

Glycolic acid is a natural treatment for acne. It helps to remove excess oil from your hair follicle roots. It shrinks pores, banishes pimples and blackheads. And it’s antibacterial to boot.

Glycolic acid peels are effective for removing acne scars as well as cystic lesions. A study of atrophic acne scars found that it took at least six treatments to achieve results with a 70% glycolic acid concentration.

Hyperpigmentation (also known as dark spots) can be eliminated

Hyperpigmentation (or dark spots) can be caused by hormones, sun damage and skin damage. The most common reason is melanin overproduction, which is what gives your skin its color.

Glycolic acid inhibits melanin formation, making glycolic acid peels ideal for darkening dark spots. You’ll notice a significant difference after 6-8 treatments.

Move over, melasma

Melasma, a form of hyperpigmentation, results in brown or grey patches on the skin. This is often a result sun damage. Melasma is more common in women due to hormonal changes during pregnancy and hormonal birth control.

Glycolic acid peels are a particularly effective option for lightening the dark spots caused by melasma, especially in combination with hydroquinone. You may need to space the peels out and see results within 2 months.

Treat ingrown hairs, scarring

Ingrown hairs can be very painful and unpleasant, especially if they are on the face.

After you have shaved, waxed, or pluck the hair, ingrown hairs occur. The hair grows back into the skin sideways. Why doesn’t hair grow straight up? Dead skin cells can block the hair’s path and clog your follicles.

Glycolic acid is the best agent for removing dead skin. It can also help to prevent ingrown hairs. It helps reduce scarring.

Shrink stretch marks

Skin stretching can cause stretch marks. Cortisone is also a party. Too much can lead to skin losing its elasticity.

There are many DIY ways to minimize the appearance of stretchmarks. Glycolic acid is a treatment that stimulates collagen production and reduces stretch marks.

One study found that combinations of 20 percent glycolic acid with 05 percent tretinoin or 10 percent L-ascorbic acid were both effective at improving the appearance of stretch marks.

Fighting photoaging

Exercising too much in the sun can make your skin age faster than normal. Photoaging can be identified by sagging, wrinkles, and dark spots.

Glycolic acid peels can be used to treat mild photoaging. Some peeps may see better results with glycolic acid-trichloroacetic acid (TCA) combination. TCA is especially effective in managing wrinkles.

It is available to anyone who wants it.

Glycolic peels can be used on all skin types.

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What about sensitive, acne-prone skin?

You bet. Glycolic acid peels, which are relatively mild compared to other chemical peels, are totally safe for acne-prone and sensitive skin. However, you should consult your dermatologist if you are concerned about the results.

What about during pregnancy?

With the exception of treatments that contain hydroquinone, glycolic acid peels are considered safe for pregnant women.

However, research suggests that glycolic acid can be absorbed by the body, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and stick to lower concentrations you can buy over the counter.

Consult your OB/GYN if you have any questions or concerns.

Peel like a pro

A professional is required if you desire a deeper peel.

Where should you go?

To get a good glycolic treatment, you don’t need to go to the doctor.

This service is offered by many medical spas. Make sure the person performing your peel is either a licensed aesthetician, or a board certified dermatologist. They will be able assess your skin and suggest products to prepare you for treatment. This can happen a few days or even weeks in advance.

Money is important

Although it isn’t the most expensive treatment, moderate glycolic acid peels will reduce your cost by $100-$600. These treatments are often considered “cosmetic” so they won’t likely be covered by your health insurance.

Before you start peeling

Dependent on the strength of your peels, there may be a downtime period lasting anywhere from one to fourteen days after the procedure.

You can expect some reddening, crusting, swelling, and even some pain. This is why you need to plan your time accordingly.

Also, you won’t have the ability to use makeup or other cosmetics for several days while your skin heals. Glycolic peels are safe for most people, but extra sensitive skin needs to be aware.

If you have any skin conditions, such as sunburn or skin infections, do not get a glycolic peel.

A mild-to-moderate strength peel is recommended for those with darker skin tones. It’s also a good idea to consult a professional who can help you determine the best treatment for your skin.

Concentration concerns

woman with brown curly hair

Your practitioner can be the best judge as to how strong you should go. Here are some guidelines for glycolic acid peel strengths.

  • Mild: This peel contains 20-30 percent glycolic acid. It is very superficial and can be used to treat mild hyperpigmentation. It takes only a few minutes to apply the peel and it usually takes around 24 hours to recover.
  • Medium: Medium peels increase the concentration to 35-50 percent. Allow the treatment to continue for 5 minutes to allow the product to reach the first layer of your dermis. A more intense peel will require more downtime, in this instance, approximately a week. Medium peels can be used to smoothen skin texture and address mild cases of hyperpigmentation.
  • Deep: A deep peel uses a 55-70 percent glycolic acid to penetrate the lower layer of the dermis. This is applied to the skin for anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes. These deeper peels have all the same benefits as their less intense cousins but are also used to reduce deep wrinkles and scarring.

The peel play-by–play

Glycolic peels are a quick and easy procedure. Glycolic peels are usually applied to your face for a few moments. Your practitioner will take care to protect your nose and corners, as well as your eyes.

You might feel a tingling sensation during the peel, but not intense burning or discomfort. Your practitioner might apply local anesthetic if you are having a deep peel.

Once the treatment has been completed, the exfoliating effect will be stopped by neutralizing it with water or another product.

Your skin may feel reddened and tightened immediately after the treatment. You’ll see some peeling within 2 to 3 days depending on how strong the treatment was.

Post-peel care

Your dermatologist or aesthetician may advise you to stay out of the sun for up to two weeks after a professional peel. Glycolic acid can make your skin more vulnerable to UV rays.

While you are at it, avoid saunas. You should moisturize your skin well and avoid additional exfoliation.

Use cool water to wash your skin instead of hot or warm water. An ice pack or an over-the-counter pain reliever can be used to reduce swelling and tighten the skin.

Side effects

Side effects are very rare if your practitioner is skilled. Side effects can be made worse by smoking and sun exposure.

Glycolic acid peels can have side effects like:

  • Skin tone changes
  • Sensation of burning or stinging
  • Swelling
  • Feeling like your skin is being pulled taut
  • Eye irritation (this can happen if your eyes aren’t properly protected).
  • skin irritation
  • aggravation cold sores
  • Skin crusting is a sign of infection and can be picked up.

Scarring, permanent lighting (aka hypopigmentation) and blisters are some of the less common side effects.

What are your chances of seeing results?

Glycolic acid peels are less intense than more intense chemical peels and require only a few treatments to achieve results.

Your results will vary depending on how strong your peels are. However, it is common to see results after three to six treatments.

How often do you need to peel?

Space your peels evenly so that you don’t overexfoliate your skin.

Your practitioner will recommend a treatment plan for professional peels that takes into consideration your skin type, the intensity and the desired results.

This frequency could be as low as every three weeks or as high at every few months.

DIY tips

Glycolic acid peels at-home are usually milder than professional treatments and can cost anywhere from $20 to $100.

Make sure you choose a trustworthy manufacturer that is open about the ingredients when choosing a product. These are our top picks:

  • Paula’s Choice . makes an 8 percent glycolic acid exfoliator, which is suitable for all skin types. It won’t cost a fortune.
  • The Ordinary Peeling Solutions offers a stronger option with a 30% concentration and fun wine color.
  • Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel pads are more than just a cute name. These pads contain a 10% glycolic acid concentration and don’t need to be rinsed after use.
  • L’Oreal makes a concentrated serum of 10 percent that is great for people with allergies to other ingredients.
  • QRxLabs Renewal Serum is a middle-of the-road product with a 15% concentration.

Do not hesitate to seek professional help if you feel uneasy after or before an at-home glycolic treatment.

At-home peel care

These same guidelines apply to your skin care at home, post-peel. You won’t need to be as careful with at-home peels, but you should still be cautious.

Always refer to the instructions provided by the manufacturer. For any questions regarding aftercare, consult a licensed aesthetician or healthcare professional.

Other skin treatments

Are you not sold on glycolic acid You have other options…


Tea tree oil can be used as a spot treatment. You can also use it to exfoliate the skin. OTC products that contain benzoylperoxide, retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acids can also be found in OTC stores.

In the event of a major breakout situation, prescription isotretinoin and certain antibiotics may be administered by a doctor.

For melasma

Although hormonal melasma is usually self-limiting, some people have found success with aloe vera.


These dark spots can be treated with prescription medications that include active ingredients such as trichloroacetic, corticosteroids and azelaic acids, tretinoin or hydroquinone.

Other medical options

Glycolic acid may not be right for you. You can talk to a professional to discuss your options. There are many chemical peels to choose from.

For a more intense peel to address photoaging, a treatment using phenol may be more suitable.

Another option is to forgo all chemicals and opt for laser therapy. Laser resurfacing has been shown to be especially effective for acne scars and age spots.

Do not overthink it

Glycolic acid peel is one of the most innocuous things you can do for your skin. Glycolic acid peels have been around for some time so they aren’t something to be too excited about. However, it is important that you approach them with respect.

However, if you are unsure about how your skin will react to certain products, consult a dermatologist or skin care professional for more information.