As we age our skin renews at increasingly slower rates, bringing on the signs of aging, from wrinkles to sagging skin.
But there is a way to expedite the skin renewal process, or a ‘life hack’ it if you will – and its by exfoliating with a glycolic acid peel.
AHA exfoliation is not magic, but it’s pretty close to it!
In this guide, we’ll break down all your “What is a glycolic acid peel?” related questions — along with best-use practices to ensure your skin stays glowing and vibrant.
So get ready to ditch the facial scrubs!
What’s a Glycolic Acid Peel?
In a nutshell, it’s a chemical peel that uses glycolic acid, a major alpha hydroxy acid, that’s known to regulate skin cell shedding. It does this by breaking down the bonds that hold dead skin cells on the surface, allowing your younger cells to emerge with less resistance.
In other words, it’s an exfoliating method that encourages quicker cell turnover.
Here’s a scenario:
As we get older, the surface layer of our skin turns over much, much more slowly than our younger days. *sigh. This means dark skin cells start to pile and over time, our complexion can begin to display hyperpigmentation in the form of dark spots, or poor skin texture. A glycolic acid peel will pretty much remove that build up.
If you’re interested in a deeper breakdown of how alpha hydroxy acids work, like glycolic acid, skim through this guide ‘What is Glycolic Acid’ (internal link).
Ingredients for glycolic acid peels matter
But, to the extent of how glycolic acid peels remove that dark skin cell buildup really depends on the ingredients used — or in other words, the chemical formulation of your exfoliating peel. This applies for both peels and skin care products alike.
So what’s the right formulation of ingredients?
The short answer is: it depends on your skin care goals and circumstances. But generally, if you’re just beginning and doing a peel at home, products with a small percentage of glycolic acid between 2 and 10% glycolic acid is recommended.
In-office peels (at your derma’s office) on the other hand, usually apply a 30-40% concentration of glycolic acid in their treatments. In-office treatments are usually done every 4-6 weeks, or even more frequently, if there’s a specific issue you need to fix. Contact your derma or licensed esthetician if you have any questions!
High strength glycolic acid peels should be done by a professional
According to professionals like Dr. Melda Isaac, a board-certified dermatologist based in Washington, D.C., a high strength glycolic acid peel ranging between 30 to 70% are suited for in-office treatments by a licensed dermatological or healthcare provider who is skilled in selecting the right concentration.
In comparison, “Most face washes are somewhere between 8 to 10%. Creams can be 15% and be used daily. Home masks or peels can really be well-tolerated with safety up to a 30% concentration,” Isaac said to HuffPost, referring to 30% being the “high normal”.
That’s because there are potential risks associated with glycolic acid peels, like discolouration, or a worsening of skin problems you already have.
If you’re unfamiliar, everyone of us has a delicate acid mantle that acts as a protective barrier – it’s what keeps our skin hydrated, resistant to damaging bacteria, while also maintaining pH levels. You don’t want to mess with it, so getting a high strength peel done by a professional insures that you don’t do any damage to your skin, as they know the correct formulations that will be most effective.
A medical spa is a risk, but ask for their credentials and whether they are a board certified dermatologist or completed a cosmetic fellowship where they’ve had special training for this kind of procedure.
With the precautions out of the way, here’s how a glycolic acid peel benefits your skin.
Glycolic Acid Peel Benefits
There are so many wonderful benefits to exfoliating your skin with glycolic acid – you can find a list in this article ‘How Glycolic Acid Benefits Your Skin with a Fresh Start’.
As for using glycolic acid peels, here’s a detailed overview.
- Better skin penetration: Firstly, glycolic acid penetrates the skin better than other acids because it is small in molecular terms. This means it’s absorbed much more easily to work its magic. However, this could make it mildly irritating to your skin, so monitor how your skin reacts.
- Helps clear blocked pores: Rather than changing the architecture of your skin, a glycolic acid peel helps erode some of the build of dead skin cells that build up over time and will help clear out blocked pores.
- Stimulates collagen production: Glycolic acid stimulates collagen production (internal link to how to increase collagen), helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, brown spots and rough skin texture.
- Minimizes appearance of large pores: While pore size is genetically predetermined, what you can do is make their appearance seem a lot smaller with using glycolic acid.
- Suitable for all skin types: The best thing about this is that even if you have dry skin, an AHA is water soluble which helps enhance the moisturizing factor of your skin, to get more moisture!
Note: Here’s another article ‘The Biggest Skin Benefits of a Glycolic Acid Peel’.
How Do I Make a Glycolic Acid Peel at Home?
Buying exfoliating products on the regular is going to add up, so we’ve gathered a step-by-step recipe you can make at home using cane sugar, lemon juice and utensils you probably already have sitting in your cupboards. Check out the natural at home recipe here ‘How to Make a Glycolic Acid Peel at Home for Clearer Skin in 5 minutes’.
Yep, cane sugar contains glycolic acid! Mixed in with lemon juice, you’ll have created an effective peel as your skin will better absorb it with the acid mixed in.
How Do I Apply a Glycolic Acid Peel? Our Recommendations
When it comes to preventing skin irritation from using glycolic acid peels, we’ve gathered a guide on how to use it so that you protect your delicate acid mantle in this guide ‘How to Use a Glycolic Peel at Home for the Best Results’.
As a general rule, it’s safer to stop using other actives and any prescription skin care products (ie. acne medication) during the same day you’re using a chemical peel, even if it’s a mild one like this.
Whether or not you’ve made a peel from scratch, or you’ve purchased a low-percentage glycolic acid product to use, here are some recommendations below, or you can check out our ‘do’s and don’ts’ glycolic acid guide here.
- So – this is a PM product. Use in your night time skin care routine after you’ve double-cleansed.
- Stop using tretinoin-based products for 1 week before any chemical peel (any products that contain tretinoin, like Retin-A or Differin).
- Avoid shaving or waxing facial hair within 48 hours on the peel area.
- To determine skin sensitivity, patch test by applying the solution to a small spot on your jawline or under your chin before applying the solution to your entire face.
- Apply Vaseline to areas where you don’t want the acid to be, like your lips, your eyebrows and the corners of your nose and nostrils.
- Apply the glycolic acid solution to a cotton pad or swab and pat gently onto the face starting with the forehead, working your way down to the cheeks and chin. Avoid contact with eye area, ears, and lips! The Vaseline should help with this.
- Leave the peel on for 15-30 seconds only.
- Remove/neutralize the acid by thoroughly cleansing the face with water. You can even jump into the shower afterwards if it suits your routine.
- Apply a moisturizer. If you’re heading out for the day, apply an SPF as well because your skin will be extra sensitive.
- Wait 24 – 48 hours and closely check for your face for extreme redness or irritation.
- Before applying more glycolic acid, wait at least 2 weeks to ensure there isn’t any burning or redness.
Slow the Aging Process with a Glycolic Acid Peel
So, what kind of glycolic acid peel is for you? Whether you’re dealing with clogged pores, blemishes, fine lines, uneven skin tone, or rough texture, glycolic acid (delivered in whatever method) is going to give you results by removing dead skin buildup and increasing cell turnover. As a result, you’ll start to see the emergence of baby-smooth skin once again.
Here’s to glowing skin!
All images sourced from Getty Images