Acne vulgaris is the most common chronic skin disease which affects almost 90% of adolescents at any one point of time irrespective of their race or gender.

The various forms of medications include anti-biotic, anti-retinoid, oral contraceptives and accutane among others.

This article tends to discuss the effectiveness of glycolic acid in the treatment of acne breakouts as well as its contribution and use in a chemical peel.

Please feel free to use the Table of Contents below to jump to the relevant section

What is Glycolic acid?

Also known as hydroxyacetic acid, it is an alpha hydroxy acid that is highly soluble in water.

It has a naturally occurring and is widely found in sugar crops. It is an extremely gentle form of acid and is often known as the fruit acid.

Glycolic acid has been widely used in a lot of skin and hair care products.

It carries the ability to penetrate to deeper layers of skin through it proves most effective when used in combination with benzoyl peroxide.

It has also proved to be an effective vehicle in chemical peels often used to correct the damage done to the face because of acne or psoriasis.

It leads to the removal of wrinkles, lines and scars or marks from the skin if any and also corrects various other skin conditions.

How does Glycolic acid treat acne?

Glycolic acid helps in reducing the severity and frequency of acne in a number of ways and also further contributes towards fading away the acne causing scars.

Firstly, it has drying properties and which help in cutting off the excess oil from the skin and dehydrate the bacteria thereof by killing them.

It also functions as a good exfoliation agent and removes the dead skin cells clearing off the clogged pores of the skin and unclogging it so that the excess sebum which was otherwise accumulated beneath the surface of the skin can move out.

The exfoliation and removal of dead skin cell further promote the growth of new cells to replace the dead cells.

Glycolic acid, in its group of alpha hydroxyl acid, has the smallest molecule which helps in penetrating the layer of the skin to the deepest and facilitates treatment not only on the upper layers but to the very core of it.

It can further be used with other bleaching agents like hydroquinone to affect the removal of scars and marks on the skin.

The mechanism of action behind this is that after glycolic acid has removed the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, the bleaching agent is better able to penetrate under the layers of the skin and start its action from the very root of the skin layers.

This makes it more effective in treating acne scars and hyperpigmentation.

The dosage of Glycolic acid

The Food and Drug Authority of the United States has authorized usage of glycolic acid up to 10% of concentration as a standardized measure.

How to use

Glycolic acid is used for skin care treatments in two ways. It can either be used as a lotion or cream or in the process of chemical peels.

Both of these ways are enumerated below:

Lotion/cream

The lotion or cream of glycolic acid can be used in various ways:

  • It can be mixed with your daily moisturizer and applied all over the face once every day. When doing this, only a thin layer must be applied otherwise it might cause a burning sensation. This method will help in the removal of flakes.
  • It can be mixed with benzoyl peroxide to be used over the neck and back area to treat acne there. This application should be gentle with your fingertips.
  • A tiny amount of glycolic acid with benzoyl peroxide can be used as a spot treatment for acne

Chemical peels

It is often used as a vehicle of chemical peels in the 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.

Benefits of using Glycolic Acid

There are many skin and hair benefits of glycolic acid and some of them are enumerated below:

  • Glycolic acid has good exfoliation properties and helps in removing dead skin cells quiet effectively.
  • It is also helpful in removing blackheads.
  • It is a good anti-aging agent and helps in reducing lines and wrinkles, making your skin more tight and firm
  • Glycolic acid is good in reducing scars.
  • It penetrates extremely deep layers of the skin and hence treatment is not limited to just the surface of the skin.
  • It helps in reducing the appearance of pores.

Possible Side Effects

The use of glycolic acid has been associated with certain side effects which occur if you are not cautious while using it. Some of the side effects are enumerated below:

  • Allergic reaction to sensitive skin may result in irritation, redness, itching, and swelling.
  • Treatment with glycolic acid can make your skin extremely sensitive to the sun’s rays.
  • Very high concentrations can lead to crusting of the skin.
  • It often causes hyperpigmentation and scarring.

Precautions while using Glycolic acid

In order to escape the side effects, you need to be more careful in its usage. The following precautions must be observed for this:

  • Do a patch test on a small area before going for this treatment in order to check for suitability and allergies.
  • If your skin is sensitive, it is generally advised that you use lower concentrations of glycolic acid.
  • Because it makes you sensitive to the sun, it is advised that you avoid exposure to the sun which if not possible, you must wear sunscreen or protective clothing while going out.
  • It is only for external use and must be kept away from the eyes and mucous membranes.
  • Do not use it on open wounds or burnt or broken skin.
  • Do not apply glycolic acid peel on a waxed or shaven skin.

Customer Review of Glycolic acid

We did an analysis of online consumer review to determine the practical effectiveness of glycolic acid based on the experience of people who have been under the treatment.

Here is a summary of what they liked and disliked about the treatment:

What they liked about it

Scars: A lot of consumers said that glycolic acid-based treatment was very effective in fading away from the scars caused by acne especially the pitted scars. They did not have to look for new ways to treat the scars and could rely on the same product for all-round improvement of their skin.

Better skin: As said earlier, many consumers were happy with the effect glycolic acid had on their skin as a whole. It made their skin more soft while at the same time making it tighter and firmer. It was able to contribute towards the health of the skin in general

Hyperpigmentation: Glycolic acid was very effective in reducing the hyperpigmentation that was caused as a result of the new skin development. Many consumers counted this as an added benefit of the product

What they did not like about it

Burns: Some consumers complained that glycolic acid caused a burning sensation on application.

It has been suggested that it might be because of the application of extremely high concentrations and is usually advised that you use a lower concentration to prevent this.

Dryness: A few consumers complained of the dryness that was caused as a result of treatment with glycolic acid.

It has been advised that in order to do away with the dryness you can use a good moisturizer on the affected area.

Summary

Glycolic acid is widely known to be effective in the treatment of various skin conditions and often is a preferred cure for anti-aging treatments.

Its unique quality of extremely small molecules help in the penetration of skin beyond the surface to deeper layers and thus the effect is limited not only till the appearance but also expands to the overall health of the skin.

The chemical peels are a very time-tested treatment and tends to make your skin more firm and tight.

If you have long suffered from acne and its resultant impacts, this might just be the solution you have been looking for.

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