A glycolic chemical peel is a cosmetic skin treatment that uses glycolic acid. Glycolic acid is a plant-based acid derived from sugar cane. Chemical peels are used to treat the effects of aging, sun exposure, and some types of scars. A glycolic chemical peel is a light chemical peel, with effects similar to deep exfoliation.
Chemical peels can remove blemishes such as age spots, fine wrinkles, and scars. They work by dissolving top layers of skin so that the skin replenishes itself underneath. Light chemical peels done with acids such as lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, or salicylic acid remove one or a few layers of the epidermis and have relatively few side effects. Glycolic acid, also called alpha hydroxy acid, is popular for chemical peels because it stimulates collagen growth and draws moisture into the skin.
Deeper chemical peels, such as procedures done with trichloroacetic acid or phenol acid have longer recovery times, require bandaging and pain killers, and can cause scars or permanent discoloration. Sometimes glycolic acid or another mild acid is used before a deep chemical peel to prepare the skin.
One type of very light glycolic chemical peel contains less than 10 percent glycolic acid and can be purchased over the counter. These home peels may be used once or twice a month to make skin look fresher and younger and help prevent acne. A glycolic chemical peel that uses a solution of 30 percent or more is generally performed as an outpatient procedure.
Glycolic acid works by dissolving the tissue that connects the surface layer of skin from the deeper layers. A slight burning sensation is possible during the procedure, and the skin might become very red for a few days afterward. As the epidermis lifts off the face, white spots appear that resemble blisters or peeling skin from sunburn. The old skin is usually rinsed or wiped away.
Light chemical peels usually have to be performed regularly to maintain the result. An outpatient glycolic chemical peel may be repeated as often as every two weeks. Light peels tend to be most effective on fair-skinned people. For three months following a procedure, the patient must use high SPF sunscreen daily, or there is a risk of serious damage to the skin. Chemical peels are not recommended for smokers, people with certain conditions such as rosacea or herpes, or patients taking some types of medication such as oral contraceptives.