At-Home Skin Resurfacing with Glycolic Acid Peel

Everything you need to know

mature woman looking at face in mirror
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To get smoother, younger looking skin, you may need the help of a chemical peel. The most popular at-home peel is the glycolic acid peel.

What to Look For

Without a prescription, the best home treatment is glycolic acid, a chemical. An ingredient in some skin care products, OTC glycolic acid comes in a lower strength than the peels done in a medical office.

To really get the most out of your home treatment, you want a strength of 8%, 10% or 15%.

However, there are some who feel that any strength lower than 10% does not cause any skin changes.

How Does Glycolic Acid Work?

Your skin is made up of three layers: the epidermis — the outer, protective one; the dermis — the thickest of the three, it lies underneath the epidermis; and the subcutaneous tissue — the deepest layer of the skin made up of fat, connective tissue and larger blood vessels and nerves. The dermis accounts for 90 percent of the skin’s thickness, and it is held together by a protein network called collagen, which gives your skin its durability and strength.

Glycolic acid peels promote collagen growth in the upper dermis. Studies have found that this increase in collagen production and restructuring of the dermis from using glycolic acid can lead to an approximate 25 percent increase in skin thickness. What does this mean for you? When you increase the thickness of your skin, you help soften wrinkles and fine lines.

This is why glycolic acids are seen as major players in stopping the effects of aging. 

How Often Should I Use Glycolic Acid?

As glycolic acid is considered a chemical peel, it should not be applied too frequently in a short span of time. However, glycolic acid peels have a cumulative effect, so you may do it once every week for eight weeks.

The important thing to know is how frequently you apply the product will depend on its strength.

What Are the Aesthetic Effects of Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an exfoliant. It works by seeping into the more superficial layers of the skin and destroying the attachments that hold the dead skin cells together. This allows the dead skin cells to slough off and make room for new skin cells to grow. The result is brighter, softer, smoother skin, with more even skin tone.

What Are The Side Effects?

As with retinoids, glycolic acid can leave the skin more sensitive to the sun. Limiting sun exposure is important, as is the use of a sunscreen. Skin peeling and redness may also occur depending on the glycolic acid strength and the frequency with which it is applied.


Kubiak M, Mucha P, Dębowska R, Rotsztejn H. Evaluation of 70% glycolic peels versus 15% trichloroacetic peels for the treatment of photodamaged facial skin in aging women. Dermatol Surg. 2014 Aug;40(8):883-91. doi: 10.1097/

Oresajo C, Yatskayer M, Hansenne I. Clinical tolerance and efficacy of capryloyl salicylic acid peel compared to a glycolic acid peel in subjects with fine lines/wrinkles and hyperpigmented skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2008 Dec;7(4):259-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2008.00403.x.

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