Index Peeling

Glycolic peel

At present, glycolic peel has become a rather popular cosmetic procedure. It is a type of superficial chemical peel which sloughs off dead skin cells from upper layers. At the same time, the peel smoothes skin by reducing the horny layer and thickening the living epidermis. The procedure helps normalize hyper pigmentation like pimples and pigment spots.

At cosmetology clinics, glycolic peel is generally performed in two variants:
1. Superficial peel with acid concentration up to 40% and pH from 2.4 to 4.5.
It affects the superficial horny skin layer only and exfoliates (sloughs off) dead keratinocytes without affecting proliferative processes. It is prescribed mainly for young oily skin with minor problems, as well as for brightening and smoothing skin. Substantial advantages of suchlike peels include the possibilities of frequent usage and urgent application for festive events.

2. Aggressive peel with acid concentration of 40-70% and pH level under 2.8.
In such peels, glycolic acid is more active. It penetrates deeper skin layers and activates the proliferation of derma fibroblasts and basal keratinocytes of the horny layer. The effect of such peel will be superficial-medium or medium, with all the medium peel particularities: hyperemia, flaking, mild pains, and brown crust formation.

Glycolic, or hydroxyl-acetic, acid is the basic component for the procedure. It is classified as AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) or fruit acid. In nature, it is found in green grapes, sugar cane and beetroot. Glycolic acid reduces skin inflammation and provides for smoother, firmer and healthier skin. In general, glycolic peel has an anti-aging effect and is known for fast visible results because glycolic acid stimulates the fibroblasts and collagen synthesis. Thus, it heightens skin tightness (the ability to withstand mechanical strain), makes skin smoother and removes minor wrinkles.

A molecule of glycolic acid has the smallest molecular weight among all other fruit acids. It allows deep penetration into upper skin layers, and this is why glycolic acid is used in the most popular and well-known professional peels.
Glycolic peel is recommended both for young and aged (after 40 years) skin and is used on all skin types, especially oily and mixed-type skin.

Indications for use

1. Hyper pigmentation (if not connected with a systemic disease);
2. Skin aging;
3. Dryness, low firmness of skin;
4. Skin problems (post acne, acne, blackheads);
5. Visible scars from earlier skin inflammation (scars and “dimples” from deep acne);
6. Pronounced mimic wrinkles;
7. Minor stretch marks and stigmata on face and body;
8. Hyperkeratosis (thickening of skin horny layer);
9. Oily skin with enlarged pores;
10. Seborrhea (excessive sebaceous secretion caused by sebaceous glands dysfunction);
11. Molluscum contagiosum treatment and preventive care;
12. Preparatory stage before more serious and intensive cosmetic procedures (plastic surgery, laser and mechanical skin polishing).


Absolute contraindications for glycolic peel are the following:

1. Definite allergic reaction or suspected case for a component of the solution (this needs a detailed examination and allergy verification);
2. Inflammatory elements on skin;
3. Open wounds, cuts on the face and immediate skin areas;
4. Herpetic infection in its exacerbation stage, healing herpetic lesions on face and immediate skin areas;
5. Increased photosensitivity of skin cover;
6. Pregnancy and lactation;
7. New growths and warts;
8. Recent hair removal or eyebrow correction;
9. Exposure to UV rays;
10. Serious systemic illnesses.

With care glycolic peels should be used for those who apply retinoids (structural analogues of retinol – vitamin A) with medicinal or cosmetic purposes, since these substances increase greatly the effect of glycolic acid on skin.

Procedure Specifics

Planning peels with glycolic acid is best in autumn and winter when sun activity is relatively low. This prevents hyper pigmentation after peels. To predict whether pigment spots will appear in spring or summer is rather difficult. Still, after peels, even in autumn and winter it is recommended to apply sunscreen with maximal sun protection factor (SPF).

The number of peels and the concentration of acid in the solution are determined directly by physicians after examining the condition and problems of skin. Unlike deep chemical peel, glycolic peel is unable to fix rough scarred skin, hyperkeratosis and deep wrinkles.
The procedure does not involve using anesthetics, but practically all patients experience unpleasant sensations and discomfort. This might include burning, prickling, tingling, combined with reddening. In rare cases of incorrect acid concentration in relation to the skin type and current problems, as well as in cases of prolonged exposure to the solution, burns can appear. These burns are subject to home treatment with any burn-treating medications. If second-degree burns (blisters on skin) appear, it is vital to consult a physician and receive a corresponding treatment scheme.

Glycolic peels with high acid concentration are performed only in cosmetology clinics under supervision of a qualified specialist. Home procedures without prior professional consultations are hazardous and can endanger one's health.

The effect of the active component – glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is long since known for its therapeutic effect on skin. In 1996, the first controlled clinical experiment was conducted to research the effect of 50% glycolic acid applied on skin damaged by ultraviolet. 41 volunteers took part in the experiment, the age of control group members varying from 35 to 70 years. Once a week, volunteers applied glycolic acid on a half of the face and the skin of one hand. The experiment lasted for four weeks.

During observations, the signs of skin aging became visibly lower on the supervised areas. The biopsy material was also studied. Skin specimens before treatment were compared to the ones taken after the study. According to the statistics gathered, 90% of patients experienced a substantial enhancement of skin cover, an increase in living cells, reduction of horny cells and photosensitivity, smoothing of minor wrinkles. Deep wrinkles, as expected, remained unaffected.

According to scientific studies, glycolic acid increases the synthesis of first-type collagen which provides for firmness and regeneration of skin. A direct connection has been found between the increase in collagen synthesis and glycolic acid concentration. The higher acid concentration is in solution, the more pronounced the collagen-1 increase becomes. Nowadays, in cosmetology clinics and after thorough examination of patients, physicians select sensible concentration of glycolic acid and the period of solution affecting skin. Every patient receives an individual solution depending on the intensity of skin problems.

Pre-Peel treatment

Before glycolic peel, it is advised to have pre-peel treatment during 7-14 days. It helps skin adapt to the acid, normalizes pH and smoothes skin cover. Pre-peel treatment comprises solutions with 5-10% of glycolic acid and pH from 3.0 to 4.5. It may include other fruit acids, in particular lactic acid. Glycolic acid hardly penetrates fats, and before applying a glycolic acid solution skin should be cleansed with lotion. For the first 4-5 days, solution is applied in the evening, and later on – twice a day, morning and evening. If your skin is very sensitive and dry, continue to apply it once, in the evening. On the day of the salon procedure acid solutions are not used.

Sensitivity test

Superficial chemical peel with glycolic acid is usually safe and is performed without anesthetics. But a local allergy test is still necessary. Skin is tested on the day before the procedure. Some peel solution is applied on bend of elbow and then is washed off after a standard period of time. During the next 24 hours the observed skin area should remain under thorough supervision. A local allergic reaction appears as strong burning, long-lasting reddening, and any unpleasant sensations that last a lot longer than expected. Being a fairly strong irritator, glycolic acid can cause gravest reactions. That is why correct pre-peel treatment is necessary.
If there are any doubts in local allergic test results, it is better to cancel the procedure or, for a start, to perform it on a small area of skin. Cheeks are the most preferable zone for it due to thicker epidermis. But it is still advised to postpone the procedure and sign for a thorough examination to exclude allergic reactions completely.

Procedure stages

Makeup removal. Glycolic peel, like other peels, is performed only after cleansing the skin from decorative and any other cosmetic substances. This can be achieved at home by using a special toner and washing the face with cool water. In a cosmetology clinic, the specialist will cleanse the skin from makeup remainders, dust and dirt that could get onto the skin on your way to the salon. Different specialists use various kinds of cleansers. It depends on the preferences of the cosmetologist.

Grease removal. Before glycolic acid peel it is necessary to cleanse the skin thoroughly from sebum, especially in the sebum canal openings, because glycolic acid does not penetrate fats. This is done with the help of grease-removing lotions.

Active component application. With a cotton wool pad or a special brush the glycolic acid solution is applied directly on the patient's skin. To ease unpleasant sensations during the procedure, many salons advise cold fanning. A current of cold air is directed at the patient's face after glycolic acid application to minimize discomfort. The activity of peel preparation depends not only on the glycolic acid concentration, but also on the pH of the ready-made solution. If deeper skin penetration is needed, pH of the solution is lowered and the acid concentration is increased. Thus, it is possible to control the depth of its penetration in accordance with the specific purposes. The concentration of glycolic acid in ready-made solution may vary from 10-15 to 70% depending on the purpose of the peel.

Active component neutralization. After a certain time period, the active component in the applied glycolic acid solution should be neutralized. Professionals use various preparations from different manufacturers, but they all have a common feature: weakly alkaline or alkaline level of pH (concentration of hydrogen ions). After neutralization, skin is profusely washed with isotonic (physiological) solution to restore skin moisture balance and prevent dehydration. Contrary to the widespread opinion, isotonic solution has no relation to skin protection from UV-rays. It only restores moisture and salt balance and prevents water loss during the first hours after the procedure.
Application of soothing masks and nourishing cream after the procedure provides for faster skin regeneration and prevention of any complications. It is also compulsory to apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or more.

The number of peels necessary to achieve visible results varies from 3-5 to 7-10 procedures depending on the desirable final result. On the average, effective glycolic peel comprises no less than five procedures.

Glycolic peel. Photo before and after procedure

Glycolic peel. Photo before and after procedure

Glycolic peel. Photo before and after procedure

After-Peel treatment

The interval between glycolic peels is determined directly by the supervising cosmetologist and depends on the skin's overall regenerative function in each individual case. On the average, peels can be repeated every five days. Online, one can read that glycolic peeling is so safe that skin can rest not for days, but even for several hours. However, this is a wrong suggestion; skin needs several days in order to regenerate completely after application of however mild, but still acidic solution.

After peel, skin is treated with protective cream with maximal protection factor. The cream is used during the next two or three days. Otherwise, UV rays can cause pigment spots of various sizes and pigmentation intensity. As a rule, there is no need for other after-peel treatment measures.

Several days after peel, patients can return to their usual cosmetics. There are also special cosmetic lines aimed at faster skin regeneration after the procedure. These cosmetics may be recommended by your cosmetologist. Most glycolic peel manufacturers produce a series of restorative solutions for being used after acidic peel.

Possible consequences of glycolic peel

Burns. Incorrect glycolic acid concentration or incorrect exposure time can result in first-degree (in very rare cases – second-degree) burns. In a suspected burn case skin should be immediately washed with a large amount of physiological salt solution or regular cool water, then soothed with any burn-treating cream. If necessary, one should consult a doctor. Continuation of glycolic peels is possible only after complete healing of wounded areas and rechecking of the acidic peel solution components and time of exposure.

Allergic reactions. In case when before peel, there was no allergic test conducted, local allergic reactions are possible. In this case, it is vital to consult a doctor immediately and start taking in antihistaminic agents. If the reaction is strong, or if there are any edemas or labored breathing, atypical or intensive and quickly spreading rash, ambulance should be called. In such cases the allergen must be neutralized in an in-patient facility.

Pigmentation. This complication is possible if the patient has high skin photosensitivity or has neglected the necessary protection measures: has not used sunscreen or started peels in spring or in summer.

Dry skin. If after the procedure skin has become drier, it is recommended to use after-peel treatment solutions, as well as a regular moisturizing cream.


As with any cosmetic procedure, the price of a glycolic acid peel may vary greatly. Generally they range in price from $50.00. (usually in a spa) to $200.00. The price will also vary by region. When considering where to go also consider the strength of the glycolic acid peel. Higher strength peels, such as a 90% peel will generally be more expensive than a 30% peel.

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