Glycolic acid, which is derived from sugar cane, is probably the most popular grade of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) used by physicians for facial peels. Glycolic acid peels are effective, yet they tend to produce the minimum of side effects.
Most of the glycolic acid formulations used by physicians contain acid concentrations of 50 percent or higher. (By comparison, over-the-counter cosmetic AHA products contain only 3 to 10 percent glycolic acid, percentages with questionable usefulness.)
What does it do?
Like other AHA peels, glycolic acid peels removes the top layer of dead cells on your skin, revealing a new layer that is smoother-textured and more vibrant-looking. These peels help with fine lines, minor skin discolorations (such as “age” spots), and dry patches known as solar keratoses. They’re also useful for treating acne and for removing or minimizing old acne scars.
Glycolic acid peels are also believed to stimulate the growth of collagen, a protein that helps give skin its structure. The loss of collagen due to aging and sun exposure is one of the factors involved in the formation of lines and wrinkles.
To increase the effectiveness of the peel, your physician may recommend that you combine it with another treatment that removes the top micro-layer of skin: microdermabrasion.
Treatment with Glycolic Acid
In physician offices a glycolic acid peel may be administered in concentrations from 20% to 80%. The stronger the concentration of the peel, the deeper the peel will dissolve tissue.
If someone is using Retin-A or Retinoid-like medications it will make a glycolic peel have a stronger effect, so let your practitioner know if you are using such medications.
For a few days after treatment, your skin will look slightly reddened, and it may peel a bit. It will also be dry – a side effect that can be relieved with a moisturizer. You’ll need to wear a sunscreen for several weeks, as your skin will be more vulnerable than usual to sunburn.
As with other types of AHA peels, certain people–particularly those using the acne drug Accutane or those with active cold sores–should not have this particular skin-rejuvenation treatment. Going through a physician’s office will help ensure not only that you’re a candidate for a glycolic acid peel, but also that you’ll receive safe and effective care.