Glycolic Acid Peels At Home

Want to save $1,000? Instead of an expensive trip to your local med-spa, salon, or dermatologist for a glycolic-acid peel, give yourself one in the privacy of your own home, at a fraction of the cost. Keep in mind, however, what may work for some may not work for you. At-home peels may have negative consequences — proceed with caution. A skin professional's input is recommended.

Glycolic peels have a cumulative effect, and it is recommended that you have six to eight treatments every one to two weeks. The average cost of a peel outside the home in 2008 was about $120 per treatment, depending on the percentage of glycolic acid used.

However, products are available for home use at the same strengths used by the professionals. Read on to find out how glycolic acids work, what to look for in a glycolic-acid peel, and how to use a peel safely and effectively.

Why They Work: Research Findings on Glycolic Acids

A glycolic-acid peel disrupts the “glue” between skin cells in the outer layer of skin, the epidermis. When the epidermal cells become "unglued," that allows the dead skin cells to exfoliate or slough off, making room for regrowth of new, fresh skin. Clinically, this correlates to brighter, softer, smoother skin. Superficial pigmentation issues (blotchy discolorations of the skin) can also be reduced.

“Studies have shown that use of glycolic acids result in collagen growth in the upper dermis,” says Scott Gerrish, MD, of Gerrish and Associates, PC, a nonsurgical skincare specialist with offices in Virginia and Maryland.

Your skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. The epidermis is the outer, protective layer of your skin. Underneath the epidermis is the dermis, the thickest of the three layers of skin, accounting for 90 percent of the skin’s thickness. Collagen, a protein network that holds the dermis together and gives your skin its durability and strength, is produced in the dermis.

Dr. Gerrish notes that the increased collagen production and restructuring of the dermis from using glycolic acid can lead to an approximate 25 percent increase in skin thickness. This increased skin thickness helps soften fine lines and wrinkles. Glycolic acids play a major role in anti-aging and reversing sun damage but results are dependent on the concentration of the glycolic acid used, and not all glycolic acids are the same.

How Do You Choose a Glycolic-Acid Product?

  • In a clinical setting, doctors generally use a glycolic-acid peel that is 40 to 50 percent glycolic acid, according to Gerrish.
  • For at-home use, it is best to start off with a 20 percent solution of glycolic acid with a pH of 2.8-3.0 until you know how your skin is going to react.
  • Products with 10 percent or less glycolic acid are not worth your money.
  • Look for products that include full instructions, pH prep for your skin, a neutralizer and an acid reducer so that you have a safer, gentler peel.
  • Find products formulated in an FDA-registered laboratory that are certified/registered for 99 percent purity, and list glycolic percentages and pH levels.

How Do You Use a Glycolic Acid Product?

  • Chemical peels can be dangerous and should always be used with caution and kept out of reach of children.
  • A week before using the peel, discontinue use of tretinoin (such as Retin-A) or any other product that is potentially irritating to your skin.
  • Test a small spot on your forearm before applying the solution to your entire face to ensure that you have no allergic reaction to the peel.
  • Use a gentle facial scrub 24 hours before using a peel, and be sure to use a pH prep solution to prepare your skin for the peel.
  • Apply to less sensitive areas first, such as the forehead, chin, and cheeks, and then to the nose, lower eyelids, and neck.
  • Gerrish advises that you watch your skin and not the clock. When your skin is turning pink, it is time to neutralize the acid with a cotton ball soaked in the neutralizing solution, starting with the most sensitive areas first.
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