Glycolic Acid Treatments for Acne Scars

Acne causes skin scarring where collagen is damaged from inflammation, resulting in permanent texture changes in the skin, according to Derma Network. There are three types of acne scars: atrophic, ice pick and hypertrophic scarring. Atrophic scarring creates pits in the skin with smooth borders, ice pick scars are deeply pitted with steep edges, and hypertrophic scars sit above the skin and are thick and lumpy in appearance. Acne scars can take several years to fully disappear once acne is healed, but with a chemical peel, such as glycolic acid, improvement in the appearance of skin and decrease acne scars is seen in a shorter amount of time.


Glycolic acid is a chemical peel that produces a superficial injury to the epidermis (outer layer) or dermis layers of the skin, according to Derma Network. Before glycolic acid is applied, the skin is vigorously cleaned. The Cambridge Cosmetic Center at the Harvard Medical School states that a doctor should decide on the strength of glycolic acid to use on the skin, and then the peel solution is applied with cotton swabs, cotton pad, sponge or brush. The glycolic acid solution is left on the skin for several minutes and then neutralized and washed off. Cool compresses or topical anesthetics are used to control pain and burning sensations during the procedure.


Three types of glycolic acid peels are usually used: superficial, medium and deep. A light glycolic acid peel sits on top of the epidermis, penetrating only the dead skin cells to stimulate the regeneration of new epidermis and uses 8 to 15 percent concentration of glycolic acid, according to West Virginia University. A medium glycolic acid peel contains up to 35 percent glycolic acid and injures the upper level of the dermis which stimulates the formation of collagen and plumps the skin. Deep glycolic acid chemical peels contain up to 70 percent glycolic acid and involve the injury to the mid dermis and is typically used with a phenol solution and has the most dramatic results of all the glycolic acid peels, eliminating deep furrows and scars.


According to West Virginia University, the light glycolic acid peel requires no down time and recovery is fast and patients can return to school or work right away. Recovery time for medium glycolic acid peels can take four to six weeks to heal with the skin turning an intense pink color before fully healed. Recovery from deep glycolic acid peels can take up to a month to heal and requires the use of occlusive bandages, which prevent air from getting to the wound, according to Derma Network.


Benefits of glycolic acid treatments include the short amount of time a treatment takes (under an hour). Treatments are easily done in a physician’s office and results can be seen within only one or two treatments. Medium and deep glycolic acid treatments improve the texture and appearance of the skin, creating a smoother appearance and diminishing scarring.


According to the Cambridge Medical Center, glycolic acid peels can activate latent cold sore infections. Medium and deep glycolic acid peels can cause blocked skin pores and prolonged redness, according to West Virginia University. Pigmentation changes and permanent scarring are more serious risks or complications that can occur with glycolic acid skin peels.