A few days ago one of my dear readers, Roxann, asked me to write a post about how to use Glycolic Acid Peels to treat acne scarring. I was lucky that I never had to deal with acne so I never had the chance to try this treatment, but I’ve done a lot of research on the topic and here’s what I found out. But first, let’s see what acne scars and Glycolic Acid are..
What are acne scars?
Before we talk about acne scars, we have to make sure that’s what we have. Some people, in fact, can mistake post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation for acne scars. Post-inflammatoy hyperpigmentation refers to the red, pink or brown discoloration that’s present after a blemish has healed. These spots are not scars and fade on their own. Scars instead occur when the dermis is damaged. Acne cysts, in particular, occur when the hair follicle gets clogged up with bacteria, sebum and skin cells. These accumulate and expand until they become unable to pass through the skin’s surface and they eventually break deep within the dermis, causing scars.
But who is more likely to get acne scars? Dermatologists have discovered that some people have inherited genes that make them more prone to get acne scars, but also the form of acne you have plays an important role. The more severe the acne is, the more chances you have of developing acne scars. In addition, because after the age of 40 people lose 1% of collagen every year, after this age scars can become a lot more noticeable.
What is Glycolic Acid?
Glycolic acid (or hydroxyacetic acid) belongs to the family of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), and is a colorless, odorless and water-soluble substance derived from sugar cane. Glycolic acid is an exfoliant: it has the ability to loosen the glue-like substance that holds skin cells together, thus allowing them to peel off and revel the brighter, even skin underneath. Glycolic Acid also helps regenerate collagen and elastin and this, coupled with its exfoliating action, makes wrinkles and fine lines less obvious when used over a long period of time. In addition, it helps reduce hyperpigmentation and acne scarring.
However, this exfoliating action also has side effects. Glycolic Acid can cause redness and irritation, especially in people with sensitive skin. For this reason, over the counter treatments only contain concentrations up to 10%. Higher concentrations need to be prescribed by a dermatologist or you’ll risk exfoliating too much and removing all the dead skin cells on the surface without giving skin time to renew itself. This will only expose raw and red skin and can be painful too. In addition, Glycolic Acid can cause skin to become more sensitive to the sun so make sure you use a good sunscreen in conjunction with products that contain this ingredient.
Can Glycolic Acid Peels Treat Acne Scars?
If you have post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, Glycolic Acid will help. As mentioned above, these spots fade overtime but you can hasten the process by using over-the-counter products with Glycolic Acid. The small concentrations in these products are enough to treat this condition after several uses. If instead, you have small to moderate acne, then using products with Glycolic Acid, together with Vitamin C and A which stimulate collagen production thus plumping skin, can make the scars become less noticeable. However, OTC concentrations usually aren’t enough on their own to solve the problem. So, what concentrations do you need?
A 2000 study studied the effect of Glycolic Acid Peels on acne scars. The study was conducted on 58 women divided by the scientists in three groups: on patients in Group A, Glycolic acid peels with 20%, 35%, 50%, and 70% concentrations were applied serially at 2-week intervals; those in Group B applied a 15% Glycolic Acid cream once or twice a day for 24 weeks; while those in Group C used a placebo cream once or twice daily for 24 weeks too. The scientists discovered that low concentrations of Glycolic Acid was better tolerated and had some useful effects on scars, but those who received 70% Glycolic Acid Peels for at least six times, saw superior results.
In the Journal of Japan Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery also appeared the result of another study examining how Glycolic Acid Peels worked on several skin conditions, including acne scars. This time, 20-50% Glycolic acid peels were applied for 3-5 minutes, and then neutralized and cooled down. This procedure was repeated every 1-4 weeks for at least 5 times. The study showed that 67% of the acne scars cases benefited from this treatment.
How to use Glycolic Acid Peels to treat acne scars
So, if you have acne scars and want to treat them with Glycolic Acid Peels, it would be best to start with concentrations of 20% and slowly increase in percentage. Switch to a 30% concentration after 2 or 3 weeks and, after using this percentage for a couple of times, increase to 50%. This is pretty strong but you can also increase the concentration up to 70%. However, such high concentrations need to be prescribed and performed by a dermatologist. Don’t even attempt to try them on your own, cos such potent peels could seriously irritate your skin and make your condition worse if not properly done.
That’s because Glycolic Acid peels remove an entire layer of skin and that doesn’t come without side effects. Such peels will cause your skin to peel and you will also experience some redness. How much depends on the concentration used. The higher it is, the more layers of skin will be removed, the longer it’ll take the skin to recover. In any case, it may take a few months depending on what concentration you decide to use to treat the scars, and the more pitted (depressed) your scars are, the longer it’ll take to solve the problem. For very severe scars, however, Glycolic Acid Peels may not be enough on their own.
It is also important to remember to apply sunscreen to protect skin from the sun after receiving Glycolic Acid peels. As we’re already seen Glycolic Acid Peels make your skin more sensitive to the sun and after this treatment your skin is already in a very sensitive condition, so you need to take very good care of it. Although, as we’ve seen, Glycolic Acid Peels are effective at treating acne scars, they aren’t the only or even the best treatment for them. They’re just one of the options available. Others include microdermabrasion, lasers and fillers. Sometimes, and especially in severe cases, a combination of a few of these treatments works best in reducing acne scars.
Have you ever used Glycolic Acid peels to treat acne scars? Share your experience in the comments!