Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant that is found at low levels in numerous over-the-counter face washes, toners, moisturizers and other cosmetic products. At higher concentrations, glycolic acid is used in chemical peel procedures by dermatologists to help treat moderate acne outbreaks. Chemical peels using glycolic acid may also be used by dermatologists to improve the appearance of skin damaged by acne scarring, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Glycolic acid is a derivative of sugar cane and is a member of the alpha hydroxy family of ingredients used in skin care treatments. Glycolic acid is an important component of light chemical peels dermatologists may use to help loosen blackheads and reduce the number of papules caused by acne. It may also be an ingredient in superficial to moderate chemical peels used to removed damaged or acne-scarred tissue in order to allow fresh, new skin to emerge.
Chemical peels involving glycolic acid have been shown to be effective in improving the appearance of fine line wrinkles, skin that has been damaged by exposure the the sun and minor facial scars, as well as skin that has been affected by acne, according to the Mayo Clinic. Chemical peels are rarely used alone and are most effective in controlling acne when performed as part of a total skin care treatment program.
Even mild to moderate chemical peels, including those using glycolic acid, may result in redness, scaling and blistering of the skin, which is usually temporary, according to the Mayo Clinic. Patients may experience a reaction that is similar to a sunburn, which may be painful and require pain relief medication. A broad spectrum sunscreen should be applied to protect sensitive skin for several weeks following treatment. Peeling of the skin, which typically lasts from three to five days, is the natural result of this procedure.
Mild chemical peels utilizing glycolic acid may help reduce the acne outbreak as well as improve the appearance of the skin, according to ABoardCertifiedPlasticSurgeon.com. Glycolic acid chemical peels for acne are popular because they are effective, efficient and have few complications. The AAD recommends that this method of acne treatment should only be performed by a qualified dermatologist, as trying these procedures in a home environment may result in infection, scarring and exacerbation of the acne condition.