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Glycolic acid is a natural derivative of sugar cane and a member of the AHA, or alpha hydroxy family. Applied topically, it acts as a mild chemical exfoliant and is able to penetrate and loosen the surface layer of skin for easier removal. Over time, consistent use of glycolic acid will fade superficial marks and fine lines. Because of this quality, it is a common ingredient in antiaging skin-care products.

The acid is also used to treat acne due to its mild drying effect and ability to keep pores clear. Though numerous glycolic acid products are available on the market, budget-conscious individuals can opt for a homemade glycolic acid peel using cane sugar and other common household ingredients.

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Pour the cane sugar into a bowl. Do not use sugar with large granules as it can cut or scratch the skin.

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Stir in the lemon juice until the mixture forms a paste. Lemon juice contains citric acid, another type of AHA. Combining it with cane sugar boosts the effectiveness of the peel.

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Use your fingertips to dab the paste along your T-zone and cheekbones.

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Spread the mixture evenly over your face by using small, circular motions. Start at the nose and move out toward the hairline, avoiding the eyes.

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Let the peel sit for 10 minutes before rinsing off with lukewarm water.

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Apply a light facial moisturizer to protect skin from glycolic acid’s mild drying effects.


Use the facial peel daily to gradually uncover smoother, clearer skin.

The cane sugar and lemon juice mixture will keep for four days in the refrigerator.

If you have sensitive skin, try replacing the lemon juice with water.


Glycolic acid peels can cause mild irritation, redness and some flaking. Discontinue use if these reactions become severe.

Glycolic acid can cause skin sensitivity and increase the risk of sunburn for up to a week after treatment, according to the FDA. Wear sunscreen or a moisturizer containing SPF to protect skin from sun damage.

About the Author

Julia Estrela

Julia Estrela has been working as a freelance writer since 2008. Her work has appeared in various online publications. Estrela holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in creative writing from Connecticut College.