The use of glycolic acid as a peeling agent

Dermatol Clin. 1995 Apr;13(2):285-307.


Glycolic acid is a member of the AHA family, which occurs naturally in foods and has been used for centuries as a cutaneous rejuvenation treatment. Recently it has proved to be a versatile peeling agent and it is now widely used to treat many defects of the epidermis and papillary dermis in a variety of strengths, ranging from 20% to 70%, depending on the condition being treated. People of almost any skin type and color are candidates, and almost any area of the body can be peeled. Several weeks prior to a peel the skin may be prepared with topical tretinoin or glycolic acid, and immediately prior to the peel the skin may be degreased with a variety of agents. Following the peel the skin is carefully observed for any complications such as hyperpigmentation and infection. Results are maintained with serial peels and at-home use of tretinoin or glycolic acid, as well as sun avoidance. The glycolic acid can be applied simultaneously with TCA and is another technique for a medium-depth peel. Comparison of 35% TCA-treated skin with 70% glycolic acid-treated skin examined histologically at different times reveals similar changes in papillary dermis connective tissue proteins, epidermal necrosis seen only with TCA, and reversion at 2 years postpeel to pretreatment appearance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemexfoliation* / adverse effects
  • Chemexfoliation* / methods
  • Dermatologic Surgical Procedures
  • Drug Combinations
  • Face / surgery
  • Glycolates / administration & dosage
  • Glycolates / adverse effects
  • Glycolates / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Patient Care Planning
  • Pigmentation Disorders / surgery
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin Aging
  • Skin Care


  • Drug Combinations
  • Glycolates
  • glycolic acid