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Can a Glycolic Peel Help With Scars?

By Cassie M. Chew ; Updated July 18, 2017

A glycolic acid peel is a dermatologist-administered skin care rejuvenation treatment that is designed to remove the top layer of your skin to reveal fresh, underlying skin. Glycolic acid peels help to fade acne scars or brown spots on your face or other areas of your body. This chemical-based treatment typically works on all skin types to fade scars with minimal side effects.

Exfoliation Routine

Your skin is composed of multiple layers of cells. The top layer is called the epidermis and it acts as a barrier to protect deeper layers of your skin from the environment. The epidermis also helps you maintain a constant internal body temperature and prevents your skin from drying out. Fibers that run between individual surface cells hold the epidermis together. In a process called exfoliation, your skin sheds its top layer of skin. A glycolic acid peel speeds up this process.

The Main Ingredient

Glycolic acid is a fruit acid formulated from cane sugar. When applied to the skin, glycolic acid penetrates the upper layer of the epidermis and weakens the fibers that bind the skin cells together, thereby causing your skin to peel. Your dermatologist may combine glycolic acid with salicylic acid or lactic acid to customize the treatment based upon your skin type and skin condition as well as your desired results.

How It Works

Before your appointment, your dermatologist may ask you to stop using medicine that may cause photosensitivity and ask you to begin preparing your skin at home with a preconditioning cream. On the day of the treatment, the dermatologist cleans your skin with a product that removes excess oils and then applies the glycolic acid solution to the designated location, which could include your face, neck, chest, hands, arms or legs. At the end of the treatment, the dermatologist removes the solution and applies a product to neutralize the acid.

Number of Treatments Needed

The concentration of glycolic acid and other chemicals in the solution and how long the solution remains on your skin during each session will determine the number of treatments you need. The pre-peel treatment and the thickness of the skin on the treatment area also may influence how long it takes to see results. After the treatment, your skin may feel sunburned and you may experience redness and scaling in the area. Your dermatologist likely will recommend that you use a sunscreen that blocks both ultraviolet A and B rays.

Other Skin Benefits

In addition to fading mild scars, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends glycolic acid peels to reduce wrinkles and fine lines, especially under the eyes and around the mouth. A glycolic acid peel can remove blackheads and temporarily reduce excess skin oil. The treatment also can improve skin discolorations, such as sun spots, age spots, liver spots, freckles or blotchiness as well as refresh your skin texture and color. Glycolic acid peels won't improve deep scars or keloid scars.

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