Can Glycolic Acid Peel Help in Acne Treatment?

Acne is one of the most common and widely spread chronic skin disorders affecting millions of people around the globe.

In the United States alone, it affects 17 million people every year. It affects people irrespective of their race, gender or age though it is more common in women than in men.

However, it acquires a more severe form in men as per a survey.

A lot of methods and medications have been introduced with time which ranges from antibiotic to various herbal and home remedies.

Chemical peeling of the skin has emerged as one widely used treatment around the globe.

This article tends to talk about the process of chemical peeling when done with glycolic acid as its agent and the efficacy of this agent in preventing the breakouts and improving the skin.

What is Glycolic acid peel?

It simply refers to the process of chemical peeling of the skin using glycolic acid as its medium.

Glycolic acid belongs to the alpha hydroxyl acid group and is a fruit acid derived from sugar cane. Glycolic acid is not only extremely soluble in water but also extremely gentle on the skin.

It also tends to penetrate to deeper layers of skin than most other acids and therefore serves to be an excellent peeling agent.

It is often used for the removal of wrinkles, lines, and scars from the skin and also to correct various other skin damages. Its effectiveness in treating acne has been widely acclaimed.

How does Glycolic Acid Peel treat acne?

In the peeling process, glycolic acid is used for exfoliation of the accumulated dead skin cells on the skin which is limited not only to the surface of the skin but also penetrates deeper into the layers owing to its penetration properties.

This helps in inducing collagen formation as a natural response of the immune system which further stimulates cell buildup and formation of a new skin layer which is both rejuvenated and fresh.

It also tends to speed up the natural exfoliation of oily or acne-prone skin which is extremely slow by itself.

This exfoliation does not only remove the damaged skin cells but also prevents further breakouts.

It has also been suggested by some researchers that using glycolic acid might just benefit the anti-inflammation process as it prevents inflammation by moisturizing the skin and regulating sebum production of the skin.

How to go about the peeling process

Before going ahead with the peeling process, you must apply a cleanser to wipe your face clean.

After this, the peel solution, which is available in the concentrations ranging from 30% to 75% with respect to glycolic acid, is applied to the face and left for some time.

After this, it is removed with the help of cotton balls or pads.

It is usually advised that peels of higher concentrations be carried out only under the guidance of a registered dermatologist or doctor.

Benefits and Possible Side Effects of Glycolic acid peel

There are various benefits of choosing glycolic acid over other acidic agents in the process of chemical peeling.

Some of them have been enumerated below:

  • It tends to reduce the size of the pores in appearance
  • It is effective in smoothing out lines and wrinkles
  • It is helpful in improving the texture of your skin generally
  • By cleaning the surface of the skin of its dead skin cells, it helps other skincare products or topical medications to go deeper into the layers of the skin so as to make its impact in a better way
  • Its penetration power allows it to go beyond the epidermal layer up till the dermal layer
  • It helps in making the skin more supple by acting as a binder of water

Possible Side effects

The side effects related to peeling with the use of glycolic acid are extremely mild and few. Some of them have been mentioned below:

  • It may cause redness and swelling of the skin area being treated
  • It may lead to superficial peeling or scabbing
  • It can cause a burning, stinging or tingling sensation
  • It may lead to acne flare-ups though it is very unlikely and rare
  • It may lead to hyper or hypopigmentation or even discoloration of the skin. This usually happens mostly with people who have a dark skin colour.

Who should not use Glycolic acid peel

It has been suggested that people with some conditions should avoid undergoing a glycolic acid peeling treatment. A list of such conditions has been mentioned below:

  • If you have a history of herpes simplex or cold sore, you must consult your doctor of preventive measures before undergoing this treatment
  • Hypertrophic or keloidal scarring
  • Warts in the area to be treated
  • Open wounds or cuts in the area to be treated
  • Sunburn which occurred 2 weeks before the treatment
  • Tanning which occurred six weeks before the treatment
  • The area to be treated should not be waxed or shaved prior to the treatment
  • Stop using Accutane or retinoid 6 months from when the treatment is scheduled

Precautions while using Glycolic acid peel

It is used as a vehicle of chemical peels in a concentration of 20% to 70% when being treated by a registered doctor or dermatologist and that of 10% to 20% when doing it in person at home.

If you are doing it at home, it is important that you follow proper instructions. Some of the guidelines you can follow regarding this are enumerated below:

  • Before applying the peel, your face must be washed with a non medicated cleanser and pat dry
  • It should not be used on broken or burned skin or on open wounds
  • The peel should be kept away from the eyes and mucous membrane as it is for external use only
  • It should be left on for 2 to 3 minutes before washing it off
  • You must not rub the peel on your skin. The application should be gentle
  • This treatment should not be overdone or it may lead to excessive damage. The peeling can be done only once a week for 6 weeks
  • In case it causes extreme dryness, you may use a moisturizer after the peel

What users say about Glycolic acid peel effectiveness?

We did an analysis of online consumer review to determine the efficacy of glycolic acid chemical peels in the treatment of acne based on what people have experienced. Here is a summary of what they had to say: 

What did they like about it

Reduces scars: Based on what a lot of consumers had said, it is believed that glycolic acid peel is extremely effective in reducing scars caused due to acne. In a lot of cases, it was also successful in removing pitted scars

Skin texture: Many consumers were happy that it led to an improvement of their skin texture in general. Not only did it make their skin smooth and supple but also more tight and firm apart from adding a glow to the face

What they did not like about it

Damaged skin: Some consumers were of the view that it only helped skin that was slightly damaged and could not have any effect on the kind of skin that actually required peeling because of extreme damage.

Regular sessions are a problem: A few consumers complained that going for regular session over and over again was extremely tiresome. This is not a quick fix and might take time and money to show complete results.


Glycolic acid has been known for its ability to penetrate up till the dermal layer of the skin and hence will give you a more rooted and longer-lasting effect than most other acidic peeling agents.

It is also quite safe as it has extremely mild side effects and that too is rare.

Moreover, its treatment is not limited only till the prevention of acne breakouts but also heals the acne scars and marks and leads to an improvement in the skin texture as a whole making it firm and soft. Glycolic acid is highly recommended by its users.

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