Glycolic Acid is a Keratolytic medication that is used in the treatment of both active acne and mild acne scars. Glycolic Acid is a type of Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) and is a common ingredient in a range of skin care products.
AHAs are organic acids that are naturally produced by sugar cane and certain kinds of fruit. In addition to Glycolic Acid, other AHAs (eg. Lactic Acid, Malic Acid and Citric Acid) are included in many skin care products.
Glycolic Acid is the smallest of the AHAs and it readily penetrates into the skin. Glycolic Acid is used primarily as a chemical exfoliant that breaks up the outermost layer of the skin (epidermis).
Low concentration Glycolic Acid formulations are available as Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications, while higher strength products are available by prescription and are generally administered in a dermatology office or other medical setting.
Glycolic Acid is more commonly used as a treatment of mild acne scarring than for the treatment of active acne. Glycolic Acid face peels can do a good job of reducing minor skin irregularities and improving the overall appearance of the skin. Unfortunately, Glycolic Acid (and most other mild chemical peels) do not work well for the treatment of serious acne scars.
There is some clinical research that suggests that Glycolic Acid treatment can help improve active acne symptoms, but most patients report that Glycolic Acid is generally ineffective for the treatment of active acne symptoms. At low concentrations, Glycolic Acid has a similar effect as other Keratolytic agents, like Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide. However, even in research studies that reported improvements after Glycolic Acid treatment, very few of these patients experience significant or complete resolution of their acne symptoms. Keratolytic medications can improve acne symptoms by helping to prevent the formation of clogged pores and pimples.
The most common side effects of topical Glycolic Acid treatment are skin irritation, peeling, redness, and scaling. Some patients experience problems with erythema (persistent redness) and hyperpigmentation. Generally, side effects of Glycolic Acid treatment resolve within 2 weeks of treatment. The improper or excessive use of Glycolic Acid can burn the skin and cause permanent skin damage.