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Glycolic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (other examples are lactic acid or “fruity” acids).  When used in concentrations above 20%, it is able to remove the outermost layer of the skin (stratum corneum).


Glycolic acid works by removing the old, outer layers of skin cells.  This exfoliating effect gives the skin a smoother texture and a more uniform colour.  Glycolic acid also unblocks pores, which is beneficial for acne and ingrown hair problems.  There is also evidence that glycolic acid stimulates the production of collagen and glycosaminoglycans in the dermis.  The result of this combination of effects is that the skin is given a fresher and more youthful appearance.

Glycolic acid peels are useful for minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, surface pigmentation irregularities (eg. Freckles, age spots, sallow skin), and acne.  They impart a fresh glow to the skin and help the skin feel significantly smoother.  They are very useful for sundamaged skin which is a combination of the above, often with solar keratoses (sunspots) as well.

Glycolic acid peels can be performed as an initial series of six peels, spaced approximately two to four weeks apart, depending on the condition being treated or they may be used as a once only "freshen up" at any time.

During the procedure, the face is cleaned thoroughly to remove traces of oil and dirt, and the peel is applied evenly with a brush  applicator.  Mild/Moderate stinging can occur and is usually easily tolerated.  A fan can be used to cool the skin during this stage.  After the prescribed amount of time (usually between three and six minutes), the peel is neutralized with an atomized spray.  After washing your face, we will apply a moisturizer and broad spectrum sunscreen.

Depending on the concentration used, mild redness can be expected immediately after a glycolic acid peel, this can be camoflauged with makeup if desired.  Typically, very fine dryness and scaling can appear up to 5 days after a peel but this is not necessary for improvement to occur.


Due to the nature of glycolic acid peels and the depth at which they operate, side effects are extremely uncommon.   Excessive redness, tenderness and burning can occur, particularly in patients with very sensitive skin.  Patients with acne may find that there is a temporary, minor flare in their condition at the start of treatment, which then subsides.   Blistering, infections (bacterial, or recurrence of coldsores), and scarring are extremely rare. 

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