Glycolic Acid Peels

Information about glycolic peels and what they do |

Glycolic acid peel

Glycolic acid peels are popular facial procedures performed at spas, skin care clinics, dermatologists' offices, and even at home. Both glycolic acid and lactic acid are AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), but glycolic acid is the more common one of the two.

Glycolic acid is a transparent, colorless, and watery liquid. Peel strengths come in varying percentages, but usually start from 30% and go up to 75% concentrations.

In my experience, a 30% glycolic acid peel feels stronger than a 30% lactic acid peel. Glycolic acid also seems makes my skin a lot redder. This may be because glycolic acid particles are smaller than lactic acid ones and penetrate deeper into the skin. At any rate, glycolic acid peels are considered light or mild peels.

Keep reading to learn more about what they do and what to expect from a glycolic acid peel.

What do Glycolic Acid Peels Do?

Glycolic acid peels can fix and repair many unwanted skin issues. In general, they can:

  • Help reduce active acne
  • Help eliminate blackheads
  • Deep clean pores
  • Improve the appearance of light wrinkles
  • Stimulate natural collagen production
  • Even out skin tone
  • Brighten skin color
  • Fade acne marks
  • Fade hyperpigmentation
  • Smooth rough skin

Keep in mind that each of these treatment benefits will depend on your skin, the strength of the peel, and the number of peels you get. You will usually need more than one peel to achieve your desired skin results.

What to Expect from Glycolic Acid Peels

For your first glycolic acid peel, you want to start with a low percentage, usually around 30%, and gradually build your way up to 75% (if your skin can tolerate it). If you start off with too strong of a peel, you can really burn and damage your skin. Giving your skin time to get used to the peel solution will allow the treatments to be safe and effective. As your skin acclimates, each subsequent peel can then be stronger than the one before it.

When you first start getting peels, the peel solution should only be left on your skin for a short amount of time, approximately one minute. As you get more peels and your skin adjusts to the acid, the peels can then be left on for a longer period of time. This, however, should be determined by the person giving you the peel. It will also depend on how much your skin can naturally tolerate.

What does it feel like to get a glycolic acid peel? Well, the stronger the peel, the more topical discomfort you will feel. If you have gradually built up your skin's tolerance to the strongest glycolic acid peel available, you should be able to tolerate it just fine. If you have never gotten any type of chemical peel before and jump straight into getting a 75% glycolic acid peel, it will probably be pretty painful.

In general, your skin will tingle, feel prickly, and turn red during the peel. Stronger peels, like 75% glycolic acid, may even burn and make your eyes water. If you are getting a professional glycolic acid peel, there will most likely be a fan running to help cool your skin and ease the burning sensation. You will probably also be red for a couple of hours after the peel or even for a few days.

Cold compresses can help reduce the redness and irritation from the glycolic acid peel. Many places apply cool steam to your skin for half an hour post-peel. One place I went to actually wrapped my face up in a giant cold towel and then applied a cooling mask afterwards. All of these steps help reduce any redness and inflammation you may experience. If you are giving yourself an at-home peel and your skin is really red, you can simply wet some paper towels and drape them over your skin or stick your face in a cool mist humidifier. Paper masks, popular in Asia, may also be used to soothe your skin after the glycolic acid peel.

Is there any downtime?

How long it takes you to recover from a glycolic acid peel will depend on your skin and the strength of peel. Your skin will bounce back faster if you have gotten lots of peels already, but the stronger the peel, the longer it will take for your skin to recover.

Glycolic peels are not considered deep peels, so you don't physically "peel" from them. Your skin may feel dry and flake a bit, but it's nowhere as intense as the peeling from TCA peels. Therefore, there is very little downtime associated with glycolic acid peels. You probably won't have to schedule time off work or opt out of social events because the side effects of the peel can usually be covered up with makeup.

It's still a good idea to get them done over the weekend to give your skin time to heal and to account for any possible irritation. I've gotten a 75% glycolic acid peel before (after taking 4 months to work my way up from 30%) and only had some redness and light flaking skin on my cheeks, so the downtime isn't too bad if you get them done properly.

If you do flake and peel a bit, let it peel naturally or you run the risk of scarring your skin. Don't pick at your face and definitely avoid using scrubs and other exfoliating products until your skin fully heals. After any chemical peel, you should also stay out of the sun and use a good sunscreen. Chemical peels make your skin more sensitive to sunlight so you want to make sure you protect your skin from getting future sun damage. For more detail about side effects and warnings for chemical peels, check here.

How long before you see results?

After you get a glycolic acid peel, you might not see the your expected results immediately. This doesn't mean the peel didn't work! It simply takes time for your skin to recover from the peel, so it will take time for your skin to show any improvements. Your skin will usually look better a week after you get the peel. If, however, your skin still doesn't look any better after a few weeks, you might have to get a stronger peel the next time.

Certain skin issues also take multiple glycolic peels before they start getting better. So, it may be several weeks or months (depending on the number of peels you get) before you start seeing any changes in your skin. Glycolic acid peels are often used for fading hyperpigmentation and red marks. One peel will not make them go away, but you should start seeing an improvement in dark skin spots after the third glycolic peel.

You can usually maintain your peel results by having one done every three weeks. However, light glycolic acid peels (30%) can be performed every two weeks if you so desire.

Some people like to freshen up their skin by getting a peel done before a wedding or big day of some sort. However, unless you are getting the peel done a week or more in advance, this is a bad idea. Besides needing time for the peel to work and for your skin to heal, you might even breakout or experience excessive redness/irritation. These are all things you don't want on an important day!

Glycolic acid peels are a great way to improve minor skin imperfections and rejuvenate dull skin. They work faster than using a glcyolic acid treatment gel everyday, but they do have risks and side effects. However, if you get glycolic peels done safely, they are a very effective treatment for many skin issues.

Last updated: September 21, 2012

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Lactic Acid Peels

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