Glycolic acid is the smallest of the alpha hydroxy acids used in facial peels to treat fine lines, dryness, acne, uneven pigmentation and sun damage. It is considered a light chemical peel, also know as the lunchtime peel because you can literally do it on your lunch break and head back to work. The glycolic peel is popular, effective, and a good way to slow down the aging process.
This treatment is a superficial chemical peel as opposed to medium and deep peels, both of which are more caustic. Glycolic acid is found naturally in sugar cane, so it is an organic acid; however, sugar cane is not what is going on your face. Glycolic acid used for peels is created in a lab from chemical reagents (i.e., bubbling carbon monoxide through formaldehyde). Glycolic acid as a peel usually is used in a concentration of 30 percent or greater.
The glycolic acid is applied to the skin, and the acid works by "peeling" off the outer layers of the skin so new, fresh skin underneath is uncovered. The acid urges the creation of new elastin and collagen. Elastin and collagen probably are the most important components in youthful skin.
Glycolic acid peels can fade pigmented areas---including freckles and melasma (dark mole-looking spots on the skin, often found in darker-complected individuals). People with hyperpigmentation (a darker area of skin caused by increased melanin) will benefit from the glycolic peel as well; although the effects vary per individual.
The glycolic peel also can improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Deeper wrinkles may be softened from the superficial peel, but either a medium or deep peel will have a greater impact on deep lines.
The glycolic acid peel can be used in areas of sun damage, which may contain pre-cancerous keratoses that can lead to cancer.
Acne scars---depending on their depth and severity---may be diminished by the use of a glycolic acid.
Overall, the skin will benefit from a glycolic peel by revealing brighter, smoother, clearer skin and evening out skin texture and helping excessively oily skin.
Glycolic acid peels are not only safe for darker or black skin, but they can also produce very effective results. Clinical tests suggest that the benefits of chemical peeling in dark skin can be successfully and maximally achieved with superficial peels while minimizing risks.
However, it should be noted that there can be great variability and reactivity when peeling darker skin, just as there can be with any shade of skin. Superficial peels can cause hyperpigmentation and scarring in certain individuals of any skin color.
An experienced doctor is the most important component of having a successful glycolic peel. Doctors treating you should perform a series of glycolic peels starting with a low concentration of glycolic acid to determine how sensitive and reactive your skin is.
If your skin is deeply wrinkled and saggy, the glycolic peel is not going to help much. There are surgical options that can help minimize deep wrinkles. Perhaps a deep chemical peel will do the trick for wrinkles, too. Any peel won't do much for saggy skin.
- Glycolic Acid Peels; Moy, Luftman, Kak; 2002
- Manual of Chemical Peels: Superficial and Medium Depth; M. Rubin; 1995