How to Treat Discoloration & Brown Spots With Glycolic Acid


Brown spots, also called age spots or liver spots, are a normal part of aging and tend to be most severe in those with a history of chronic sun exposure. While minor brown spots and discoloration can be covered with cosmetics, darker spots may remain visible through traditional foundation and powders. Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid that is typically effective at treating discoloration and brown spots. It works by triggering the formation of new collagen, encouraging the shedding of damaged skin cells and speeding up the skin renewal process.

Things You'll Need

  • Glycolic acid exfoliating scrub
  • Glycolic acid spot treatment gel or cream
  • Glycolic acid home peel
  • Sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher

How to Treat Discoloration & Brown Spots With Glycolic Acid

  • Use a scrub treatment containing glycolic acid every day. Exfoliation with a product containing glycolic acid treats discoloration and brown spots by removing layers of discolored and damaged skin.

  • Purchase a spot-treatment product containing 30 percent or more glycolic acid. Apply the spot treatment to each individual area of discoloration each night before bed. If redness or irritation develops, use a weaker product or consult your doctor.

  • Get a glycolic peel to treat large areas of discoloration. Start with the lowest strength peel available, and work your way up to higher concentrations, depending on need. You may require multiple peels, and should wait at least one week between each peel to allow the skin to heal.

  • Pay close attention to the instructions listed with any home glycolic peels you use. It is crucial to leave the peel on the skin for the time indicated and to neutralize the peel properly. Failure to properly neutralize and rinse the peel can result in skin damage, severe redness, increased irritation and pain.

  • Continue using a skin product containing glycolic acid to prevent future hyperpigmentation from occurring. Most glycolic acid creams can be worn under makeup, but some may require overnight application.

  • Wear sunscreen every day to prevent future skin damage. Sunscreen is also essential following a glycolic peel, as the skin will be more susceptible to sunburn after treatment.

Tips & Warnings

  • Anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding, using Accutane, has herpes, a compromised immune system or a history of keloid scars should not use a glycolic acid chemical peel to treat discoloration and brown spots.


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