Glycolic acid is the most commonly used alpha hydroxy acid in facial peels. It is available in a range of strengths from a very mild 5 percent up to 60 percent concentration. At home facial peels are generally mild, but the stronger concentrations can be bought online, for example on eBay. There are dangers associated with strong glycolic acid facial peels, especially when done at home and done too often.
Glycolic acid can be derived from sugarcane and other foods such as fruits. However, Dupont and other chemical companies make synthetic forms of glycolic acid used for many applications, including cosmetics. Dupont claims that its synthetic form of glycolic acid is more pure than other brands, according to the Dupont.com website. Glycolic acid has many uses. It is used for polymer self dissolving stitches, as a cleaning agent, and in an industrial application. It is also used in leather tanning, industrial cleaning, water treatment and other industrial applications.
Glycolic acid is an environmentally friendly but powerful acid. It biodegrades 89 percent in 7 days, according to Dupont.com. Of course, the industrial glycolic acid is at a much greater concentration than the acid used for cosmetics, but its strength is a good reminder that you need to be careful with this acid.
According to EssentialDaySpa.com, forum users caution that a low concentration is better to start with. Users of this forum have burnt their faces from too high concentrations of glycolic acid. The burns weep and blister and need medical care.
Different concentrations of glycolic acid have different uses, however. According to CosmeticProcedureGuide.ca, a low level concentration of between 5 to 10 percent, glycolic acid exfoliates the skin to give a smoother texture. This concentration is safe to use at home daily. A moderate concentration, of between 10 to 50 percent, you can see more pronounced but still temporary results. At higher concentrations, under the supervision of a physician, still more pronounced benefits happen. At this level, you may see scar tissue disappear, acne lessening and sun damage reversed.
At these higher levels, however, side effects can occur. Stinging and burning are common at most levels of glycolic acid concentration, according to Docshop.com. Temporary redness is also common, and longer lasting depending on the concentration of acid. The moderate levels of acid will commonly result in weeks of redness. Crusting, scabbing, flaking and peeling are also common side effects. Glycolic acid dries the skin, and this can result in flaking and peeling. One serious but rare side effect that can occur even under the care of a physician is the skin changing color. It can either grow a shade lighter or darker, with the lighter color usually being temporary.
Perhaps the biggest danger of a glycolic peel is burning the skin. This can happen by using an at home glycolic peel with too high a concentration for your skin, or by leaving it on for too long. The burning can be severe, needing medical care, or simply a few days rest.