Skin Care 101: The Truth About Glycolic Acid
Part of a larger group of acids, known as alpha hydroxyl acids (AHA), glycolic acid, found naturally in sugar cane and grapes, is commonly used in skin care services including acne treatments, exfoliation, and chemical peels thanks to its ability to easily penetrate the skin’s surface and improve texture and tone.
Why use glycolic acid treatments?
Glycolic acid is a natural exfoliant and freshly exfoliated skin tends to have a healthy glow. Skin may look softer and smoother. Manufacturers tout that long term use of glycolic acid skin care products has been shown to help diminish fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. It also helps smooth out uneven facial tone and may even reduce the appearance of surgical scars, acne scars, and other blemishes. Used on a regular basis, glycolic acid has also proven helpful in the treatment of acne. Individuals who use glycolic acid appreciate the benefits of a professional chemical peel by adding glycolic acid treatment to their skin care routine.
How does it work?
Whether you are using an over-the-counter product, containing 6-10 percent glycolic acid in a base cream or lotion, or you are getting an in-spa treatment which can contain up to 70 percent, glycolic acid works the same way. It works to break down substances that bond dead skin cells beneath the top layer of skin. Dead skin cells, which contribute to clogged pores and dull skin, can then be rinsed away, hypothetically.
Each type of peel, or treatment, will have its own steps for proper neutralization and removal, which is why it’s important to know what these chemicals do and how they work. If proper neutralization isn’t done, the peel will continue to work despite being “rinsed off”, which can lead to serious skin issues and burns.
At up to 10 percent concentration it can be neutralized and washed away with water. Skin care products containing more than 10 percent glycolic acid must be followed by a neutralizer. Professional chemical peels use concentrations of 20-70 percent glycolic acid. This requires a specially formulated neutralizer and should be done by someone with experience.
Additionally, not only does the percentage of the acid matter, but each peel has a different pH too. Both the percentage and the pH contribute to the depth the peel will work. In some cases a 20 percent glycolic peel can be stronger than a 70 percent peel because the pH is lower.
Glycolic acid chemical peels are not right for every skin type. And this is where we caution buyers. You can buy professional chemical peels on Ebay and we have seen horrific results. And here’s why: if the pH of your skin is not first neutralized, your peel could go much deeper than anticipated creating blisters, cracked skin, and worse. We have seen deep lesions that actually produce irreparably damaged skin.
Additionally, if you only apply the peel and do not follow proper removal protocols, the peel will continue working even though you’ve technically removed it.
You must remember, glycolic acid is a very powerful acid and must be handled with care, especially near the eye area.
To learn more about facials of all types and what might be right for your skin, read Spafinder’s guide to Which Facial is Right For Your Skin?.