Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Um, What?! Glycolic Acid

A couple years ago, while in the midst of a battle with my temperamental skin, a friend of mine recommended I try a chemical peel. The title alone was enough to keep me from trying it. I have very dry skin, opting for a chemical peel just screams "Dry me out some more!!!!" Thankfully I saved myself the heartache.

Glycolic acid is the active ingredient in chemical peels. While it has a host of benefits, they do not come without a cost. Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugar cane. It can be used industrially for rust removal and degreasing, but is more commonly used in skin care products as an exfoliator, moisturizer and wrinkle reducer. It is only classified as safe at less than 10%; however, is most effective at concentrations of 10% and higher. Generally only smaller cosmetic companies are willing to take the risk of liability for higher concentrations of glycolic acid in their formulas.

When used in an exfoliating cream, this highly acidic ingredient penetrates damaged skin and burns it off chemically. Other ingredients in the cream carry away residual dead skin flakes. The acid in the cream is neutralized by water when it is rinsed off. Following exfoliation, glycolic acid has the ability to act as a humectant by drawing moisture to the skin. Using products with glycolic acid can cause increased sensitivity to the sun ; thus, a high spf sunscreen is recommended. If that isn't scary enough, the chemical peel process is just horrendous! After a good scrub of the skin, a highly concentrated alpha hydroxy acid (usually glycolic acid) is applied. Allow me to classify highly concentrated. Recall glycolic acid can be used to remove rust, this at a concentration not to exceed 70%. The concentration of glycolic acid in chemical peels begins at 50%! So what you're applying to your face just may be strong enough to remove the rust from your car! NOT GOOD.

It is likely that for a few days following a chemical peel treatment, the skin will appear red and irritated, sort of like a burn... I wonder why! The skin on the face is so delicate, I can't imagine why anyone would want to use such a potent acid on it. I could better relate to the use of a chemical peel on much rougher/tougher skin like that on the feet. While I do not oppose the use of alpha hydroxy acids in skin care treatments, I do think it is important to have some discretion.


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