My Glycolic Acid Peel Experience

What it was like to get a series of glycolic acid peels for my acne |

Once I realized over-the-counter, self-skin therapy wasn't cutting it for my acne, I finally went to see a dermatologist.

He put me on Differin gel in the morning and Clindamycin gel in the evening, with glycolic acid peels (along with pimple extractions) every two weeks. He told me that Differin would "dry up" any active acne and prevent them from forming and Clindamycin would help kill the bacteria causing current active acne, as well as alleviate any purging from Differin.

The chemical peels were to help exfoliate my skin even more and speed up the purging process. The way he explained it was: by getting a glycolic acid peel every two weeks, along with a retinoid and antibiotic treatment, my skin would unclog and clear up faster.

So, I did exactly what my dermatologist recommended.

A Peeling Process

I started with a 30% glycolic acid peel left on my skin for one minute and eventually increased to 75% left on my skin for 5 minutes. It took me about four months to gradually go from 30% to 75% and I'm glad it took that long because 75% glycolic acid is some strong stuff. Your skin needs to be conditioned to higher strength chemical peels in order to tolerate them or else you can really do some serious damage. (Since I was on Differin, I was also told to stop using it three days before and three days after the peel so my skin wouldn't get crazy irritated.)

During the peel process, they clean your skin and liberally wipe on the peel solution with a makeup brush. Glycolic acid is clear and watery, but definitely very intense. For me, the 30% peel didn't feel too bad (kind of like rubbing a hot chili pepper on your skin), but the 75% really burned. I have a pretty high threshold for pain, so I was surprised that I actually teared up from the 75% peel!

After the appropriate amount of time passes (they will usually use a timer for accuracy), they remove the peel solution with wet cotton pads and proceed with extractions. Some places just give you a peel without extractions though. The peel itself will make your skin very red, but the extractions will make you look like a red welted and pock marked freak.

Pimple extractions, or acne surgery, really hurt. The extractions hurt more than the actual peel itself. I always worried that getting extractions right after a peel would cause lots of unnecessary scarring, however, my dermatologist assured me that the peel would actually make for cleaner extractions because with the surface layer of your skin removed, it would be easier to physically unclog any pores. (For more information about extracting pimples the right way, check here.)

After the extractions, most places will either put a cooling mask, cool water vapor steam, or cold towel wrap on your face to reduce the inflammation. Your skin doesn't physically peel from glycolic acid, so there isn't a lot of downtime associated with these kinds of treatments, aside from red and sensitive skin.

Chemical Peel Results

I wish I had pictures to show my progress, but thanks to a hard-drive failure and my apathetic attitude towards making backup copies of my computer, I can only share my experience via story-telling.

After my first 30% acid peel, my acne was much better. My skin was really red and welted right after the peel and extractions, but a week after getting the facial procedure done, it healed up nicely and my skin was much flatter and less red. I also saw good results from the next peel, but after 3 more peels, it seemed like I plateaued. I was getting stronger peels, but I continued to break out, even on the day after getting a peel done. Whether these breakouts were related to Differin, the peel, or just my finicky skin, I have no idea.

I kept going in for peels every two weeks, but I eventually stopped getting them because I felt like they weren't helping in the long run. The extractions left acne marks (which the derm said would fade with more peels) and the peels didn't seem to do much for my breakouts. My skin also started to get very irritated and would stay extra red for about a week post-peel before going back to its normal state.

I did notice that the peels helped fade some freckles and fine lines on my forehead. However, I don't think chemical peels are effective as an acne treatment on their own. They just seem to help any current breakouts come to the surface of your skin faster without preventing the breakouts from occurring in the first place.

In my experience, chemical peels are best used to fade red marks and other pigmentation issues after you've cleared your skin. If you still get acne, you will still get red marks even if you are getting chemical peels. It's just best to save them for after you've figured out how to handle your skin.

If you're going to spend money, you might as well spend it on acne products you can use as an everyday preventative instead of chemical peels every few weeks. Chemical peels can help clear your skin (and if they do work for you, you'll still have to get them done long term) but don't expect them to work any miracles. Even though the peels helped my skin somewhat, they didn't help enough.

Last updated: January 21, 2011

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