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What is a Glycolic Acid Chemical Peel?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 17, 2024
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A glycolic acid chemical peel is a skin treatment that is used to make the facial skin look younger. It can also be used to help treat acne and reduce the appearance of scars from acne, including scars that are pigmented more deeply than the rest of the skin on the face. This type of chemical peel is also often called a "light chemical peel." It is part of a spectrum of chemical peels that include light, medium, and deep peels, which vary in terms of how drastic their results are and how much time it takes to recover from them.

In addition to glycolic acid, light chemical peels are often formulated with fruit acids, lactic acid, and salicylic acid. All of these kinds of acid are alphahydroxy acids, which are sometimes simply referred to as "AHAs." These are the kinds of acids that are used to perform the mildest kinds of facial peels.

There are companies that include a glycolic acid chemical peel in their lines of beauty products that are intended for use at home. Even though these products have been formulated for individual use, it is best to have a dermatologist apply this type of treatment if possible. One of the important reasons to do this is that a dermatologist will be able to assess the skin prior to applying it to make sure that the treatment is right for the skin. In addition, a dermatologist can perform any follow-up care that is needed.

The results of a glycolic acid chemical peel usually include the reduction in depth and appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on the face. This kind of peel will also help to treat acne and reduce the occurrence and severity of future breakouts. It can also help to rebalance patches of dryness and uneven skin texture.

One of the benefits of a glycolic acid chemical peel is that it requires a relatively short recovery period, unlike a deep chemical peel, which can require weeks of recovery. In fact, it is often the case that a person who has been treated with this method requires no recovery time at all. For a short period of time following the peel, dermatologists and other healthcare professionals usually recommend using special moisturizers to protect the skin and keep it from becoming excessively dry, as well as avoiding direct sunlight.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By seag47 — On Nov 10, 2011

I love my glycolic acid chemical peel. I use it every two weeks at home, and it is powerful enough to make a big difference in my skin's appearance, yet it is gentle enough that it doesn't irritate my face.

The facial peel kit came with several capsules filled with powder, a container for mixing, and a combination spatula/scraper. I break open a capsule, pour the powder in the container, and add hot water. Then, I shake it up for one full minute, and it turns into a gel.

I apply the gel to my face with the spatula. I leave it on for three minutes, and then I use the scraper to remove it. I rinse my face and delicately pat it dry.

I don't get nearly as many breakouts now. I think it makes my face look younger and fresher, too.

By orangey03 — On Nov 09, 2011

@wavy58 – I also went to a dermatologist and got a series of glycolic acid peels. I work Monday through Friday, so I had to go during work and return right after my appointments.

I wore makeup every day to cover the acne, but I had to wash it off in the bathroom at the dermatologist's office. Because I didn't want to go back to work with a bare face full of bumps, I reapplied my makeup in the car every time.

My face was very sensitive after a peel, and the makeup burned my skin a little. The foundation caked up in areas, and my red face showed through. It looked bad, but not as bad as wearing none.

I think that the makeup agitated my condition and probably prolonged my recovery. It took two seasons before I finally got clear skin. I probably could have shaved off a few months, had I possessed the courage to bare my skin.

By cloudel — On Nov 09, 2011

For me, salycilic acid chemical peels alone don't do much to treat or prevent pimples or scars. I had been using them, because they were the only kind I could find in stores.

After reading an article about what a powerful exfoliant glycolic acid was, I searched online for an at-home chemical peel for the face. I was elated when I found one.

I followed the instructions carefully, and the first time I used it, I only left it on the minimum amount of time recommended. I was really impressed by how smooth my skin felt afterward. I use the peel once a month, and I am very satisfied with the results.

By wavy58 — On Nov 08, 2011

A few years ago, I went to a dermatologist because my adult acne was worsening. He told me that he would need to treat me through several visits spread out over a few months.

Each time I went to him, he applied a glycolic acid facial peel. I could feel my skin tingling and tightening up.

Any time he saw a large pustule, he would lance it and squeeze it hard, getting all the pus out. The glycolic acid peels helped prevent scars from forming from the squeezing.

The peels, combined with the medicine he gave me, cleared up my skin tremendously. I could never have accomplished this on my own.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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