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Glycolic acid, commonly used in anti-aging skin care treatments and skin peels, comes in several strengths or percentages of dilution. You can also dilute glycolic acid further by adding distilled water. Dilution is especially helpful in cases of sensitive skin. When used at 40 percent strength, glycolic peels improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, acne, sun damage and age spots. Considered a superficial peel, 40 percent glycolic peels treat the outer layer of skin, and the results last for up to one month, notes Mayo Clinic 2.
The glycolic acid peel procedure usually begins with the administration of a mild oral sedative and topical numbing cream. However, glycolic peels only cause mild discomfort, so some dermatologists perform the procedure without pain medications. The treatment itself lasts only a few minutes, but you can expect to be in the dermatologist office for about 20 minutes. During the procedure, you may experience some discomfort and stinging of the skin.
- The glycolic acid peel procedure usually begins with the administration of a mild oral sedative and topical numbing cream.
- The treatment itself lasts only a few minutes, but you can expect to be in the dermatologist office for about 20 minutes.
Chemical Peels & Hydroquinone
Initially, your skin will appear pink. The redness usually fades within the first 24 hours. Stinging and discomfort may continue after the procedure. Treat side effects with cold compresses, moisturizer and by keeping the skin spritzed with water. Other common side effects include flaking, scaling and drying of the skin. As with all cosmetic procedures, there is risk of infection.
- Initially, your skin will appear pink.
- Stinging and discomfort may continue after the procedure.
Regular peels help keep the skin looking younger and slow down the aging process, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons 3.
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In rare cases, infection can occur. The risk of infection increases along with unsanitary practices in the office and failure to follow proper post-procedure care instructions. Other risks include changes in skin pigmentation. Lighter or darker patches of skin may appear. Pigmentation changes occur more frequently in darker skin. In even rarer instances, scarring can occur.
- In rare cases, infection can occur.
- In even rarer instances, scarring can occur.
Initially, glycolic acid peels are given every two weeks for a period of two to three months. After three months, maintenance treatments occur every month, indefinitely. The results from each treatment last approximately one month.
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- MayoClinic.com: Wrinkles
- Mayo Clinic: Chemical Peel
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons: Chemical Peel
- National Institutes of Health PubChem. Glycolic acid. Updated February 1, 2020.
- Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on the skin. Molecules. 2018;23(4):863. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863
- Fabbrocini G, Annunziata MC, D'Arco V, et al. Acne scars: pathogenesis, classification and treatment. Dermatol Res Pract. 2010;2010:893080. doi:10.1155/2010/893080
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Alpha hydroxy acids. Updated May 7, 2019.
- Al-Talib H, Al-Khateeb A, Hameed A, Murugaiah C. Efficacy and safety of superficial chemical peeling in treatment of active acne vulgaris. An Bras Dermatol. 2017;92(2):212–216. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20175273
- Abels C, Reich H, Knie U, Werdier D, Lemmnitz G. Significant improvement in mild acne following a twice daily application for 6 weeks of an acidic cleansing product (pH 4). Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. 2014;13(2):103-8. doi:0.1111/jocd.12086
- Kaminaka C, Uede M, Matsunaka H, Furukawa F, Yamomoto Y. Clinical evaluation of glycolic acid chemical peeling in patients with acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, split-face comparative study. Dermatological Surgery. 2014;40(3):314-22. doi:10.1111/dsu.12417
- Sharad J. Glycolic acid peel therapy - a current review. Clinical Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. 2013;6:281-8. doi:10.2147/CCID.S34029
- Takenaka Y, Hayashi N, Takeda M, Ashikaga S, Kawashima M. Glycolic acid chemical peeling improves inflammatory acne eruptions through its inhibitory and bactericidal effects on Propionibacterium acnes. Journal of Dermatology. 2012;39(4):350-4. doi:10.1111/j.1346-8138.2011.01321.x
Kathy Mayse began her writing career as a reporter for "The Jackson-County Times Journal" in 2001. She was promoted to assistant editor shortly after. Since 2005, she has been busy as a successful freelancer specializing in Web content. Mayse is a licensed cosmetologist with more than 17 years of salon experience; most of her writing projects reflect this experience.