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Acne & Chemical Skin Peels

Acne & Chemical Skin Peels


Acne is primarily the result of clogged pores that become inflamed pustules. This can lead to scarring if the pustules rupture and the skin heals too slowly. Chemical peels may be used to reduce the appearance of acne and acne scars by removing the top layers of skin.

Glycolic Acid

The active ingredient in chemical peels is typically glycolic acid. It has the molecular formula (C2H4O3), making it a very small organic acid. Glycolic acid is suitable for use in chemical peels because it penetrates the skin very easily and is strong enough to dissolve the upper layers of skin. It's also soluble in water, so glycolic acid solutions are easy to prepare.

Home Use

Chemical peels may be generally categorized according to strength. A chemical peel intended for home use is typically a 10 to 20 percent solution of glycolic acid. This means that glycolic acid makes up 10 to 20 percent of the total weight of the solution. This concentration may be strong enough to improve the appearance of acne, but it is unlikely to be effective against acne scarring.

Professional Use

Dermatologists use chemical peels with a concentration of 20 to 70 percent. A 70 percent solution is the highest concentration of glycolic acid that will dissolve in water. This type of chemical peel can be used to treat actual scarring and is available only to medical professionals.


The chemical peel is initially a thick liquid which you apply to the area with acne. This solution dries to a gel-like consistency after a specific period of time, depending on the treatment. It may then be peeled from the skin, taking the dead cells on the top of the skin along with it.


The most common risks of chemical peels are irritation, redness and increased sensitivity to the sun. Some patients may also experience a darkening of the skin in rare cases. Improper postoperative care such as picking at the treatment area can cause more severe side effects. These include infections and failure of the wound to heal.

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