The Benefits of Glycolic Acid Skin Peels

One of the best ways to uncover smoother, younger skin is by going for a chemical skin peel. The benefits for skin are immense, but it’s important to understand what a chemical skin peel is and how it can help to improve your skin, as well as what it can’t help!

What is a Skin Peel?

A skin peel is done by means of applying a product to the face which is then peeled off, revealing the new skin beneath the layer that’s been “peeled” off. This all sounds rather harsh, but when done in a professional environment it isn’t harmful at all.


What is a Chemical Skin Peel?

A chemical peel uses a particular chemical solution (there are a variety of peels such as Glycolic acid which I’ll go into more detail about later) to improve the skin.

They smooth skin by removing the outer layers of the skin which are often rough and dry. Many people can benefit from a chemical skin peel, but those with uneven skin tone, acne and winkles are most likely to see immediate benefits from using a skin peel.

The exact chemical composition will determine how deep it penetrates (and thus how deep the peel is).


NB Notes about Chemical Skin Peels

There are a range of different skin peels available on the market – in spa’s, salon’s and even doctor’s rooms. Some (like the Glycolic Acid Peels featured below) will cause very little discomfort and light flaking, while some might also offer a much deeper and more intensive peel.

It’s advisable to always start your peeling process on the mildest level and work your way up so that your skin has time to adjust to the higher concentrations of chemicals. Prior to your peel discuss your options with your doctor or skin therapist to be clear about what you’ll experience and how long it will last. Clarify what potential results you can expect and how much social down time you should plan for.


What is a Glycolic Acid Skin Peel?

Glycolic Acid Skin Peels are simply chemical peels that feature glycolic acid as the main component. Glycolic acid is a popular skin peel treatment for winkles and acne. It is part of the alpha hydroxyl family of natural ingredients and is a fruit acid derived from sugar cane, one of the most well-known superficial peeling mediums on the market.


How does a Glycolic Acid Skin Peel Work?

Glycolic acid, a water soluble acid, has a small molecular structure that can be readily absorbed by the skin. Once absorbed, the acid dissolves the bonds that holds the dead cells together. Once loosened, dead cells are able to exfoliate off the skin, revealing a more glowing, radiant skin and promoting both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity to create skin rejuvenation.

The plus side of losing all the dead cells, is that your skincare products will be able to penetrate deeper into the skin. Not only will a brighter complexion be revealed, but your cellular turnover gets a kick-start. Healthier and happier cells are produced and collagen and elastin production is enhanced, hence the anti-aging effect of peels.

As you can see having a peel done regularly is actually quite good for the skin and with continuous use Glycolic Acid can assist with the acceleration of skin healing and the reduction of signs of environmental damage. The good news is that Glycolic Acid does not penetrate deep enough to cause dermal harm, adding to the safety of this specific peeling treatment.


Did you know? Skin shedding is a totally natural process. Your skin renews itself entirely every month? We shed around 30 000 to 40 000 skin cells every hour – that’s around a million a day, or 3,6kg per year! The body’s biggest organ replicates the fastest because it has to protect against impurities like pollution, chemicals, ultraviolet rays, changes in temperature and climate, bacteria and a host of potential infections. Sadly as we age this skin renewal process slows down and shows up in the form of wrinkles, fine lines, hyper-pigmentation and acne.

Who can have a Glycolic Acid Peel?

Glycolic Acid Peels are safe on all skin types and skin conditions and research has shown that a Glycolic Acid peel creates the least amount of inflammation in the skin.

Superficial Glycolic Acid peels only penetrate the epidermis and can be used for a variety of conditions, including acne, melasma, dyschromias, photodamage, and actinic keratoses.

Most skin colours can tolerate chemical peels, however the choice of treatment selected will be the one best suited to your skin. Those with darker skins should note however that if not managed properly more aggressive peels can cause hypo- or hyper- pigmentation so to prevent this it’s very important to listen to your skin care therapist and do exactly what she tells you to do.


What Side Effects are there for a Glycolic Acid Peel?

A Glycolic Acid peel is a fairly light peel that will usually result in few, if any, side effects. There is no recovery time and no pain relievers are necessary.

Side effects are dependent on the person applying the peel as burns can leave post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If the peel is left on for too long, or one does not increase the strengths gradually, or if the peel is not 100% neutralised then side effects can occur.

If you do feel any discomfort during the procedure (which would likely only be slightly irritation to the skin) you might be given a mild pain medication but most likely your therapist will use other methods to distract you from the tingling sensation!

If you have sensitive or very fair skin you are more likely to encounter discomforts such as some burning or redness, but these usually go away quickly.

After a Glycolic acid peel your skin will be more sensitive to the sun, so you should wear a high SPF sun block daily.


What are the Benefits of a Skin Peel?

After a skin peel you can expect to see good improvement in the skin condition, texture, pores, pigmentation, hydration, and overall skin health. You may look younger, with fewer fine lines and wrinkles.

A Glycolic Acid skin peel will stimulate cellular activity, even out skin tone, improve the appearance of sun-damage as well as improve the elasticity and firmness of the skin.

Glycolic Acid also increases the synthesis of collagen and has a rejuvenating effect in the skin.

Glycolic Acid Peels have anti-inflammatory & anti-oxidant properties with the ability to reduce swelling, redness and irritation.

Glycolic Acid Peels stimulate homeostatic collagen, which is responsible for plumper, younger looking skin.

AHA’s penetrate the outermost layer of the skin, reducing cellular adhesion and promoting desquamation resulting in a smoother complexion.

Glycolic Acid Peels are also used as a treatment for acnes as this key ingredient is able to unblock pores, clear dead skin cells, eliminate excess sebum and remove blackheads.

Unlike various other chemical peeling formulations, a Glycolic Acid peel does not stimulate scar collagen, rather it safely improves the appearance of photo-aging, post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation and scarring.

Those who struggle with keratosis pilaris (bumps on the back of the arms) have used Glycolic Acid to combat this.


What Skin Conditions can’t be improved with a Glycolic Acid Skin Peel?

Some conditions can’t be treated with peels. Glycolic acid peels will only have a minimal effect on acne scars, however those who struggle with acne may notice that their skin is less oily and appears clearer.

Other conditions that can’t be treated with Glycolic Acid peels include dilated capillaries, sensitive and dry skins, deep lines, severe sagging skin, rashes and strange discolouration of the skin.


How often should one have a Glycolic Acid Peel?

Often one glycolic acid peel isn’t enough so your therapist will usually suggest a series of treatments over a prescribed period of time.

Peels take commitment and deeper seated problems will need deeper treatment options.

The treatment itself is generally quick – delivering excellent and long-lasting results. Ask the person treating your skin, if you are at all worried about anything that is happening on your skin.


What to expect in a Glycolic Acid Peel?

A light layer of the peel product is applied to your face and left for a period of time which is determine by the product, the reasons for having it and the person who is performing the peel.

I recently experience an optiphi Skin Rejuvenation Peel at the Life Day Spa in Century City.



The treatment starts with a pre-peeling preparation of the skin that deep cleanses the skin to combat redness, inflammation and skin irritation and prepares the skin for the Glycolic Acid peel.

Then the Glycolic Acid peel itself is applied (the percentage of the peel is between 25 – 35% on which one they choose to use on your skin will depend on the skin requirements).

While it is on your skin you will feel a tingling, almost ant-like sensation “crawling” across your skin. It’s not unbearable, but a bit uncomfortable. My therapist helped to make the experience a bit more bearable by doing a massage elsewhere on my body… feet, hands, head!

The peel itself is followed by a neutralising stage to ensure all the Glycolic Acid is no longer active on your skin. Then there is a stage of soothing the skin where super hydrating products are applied to your skin which will now be at it’s optimum to absorbe active ingredients.

After my Glycolic Acid peel my skin felt incredibly soft and smooth and showed no signs of redness at all…. just glowing radiance!




More about the optiphi Skin Rejuvenation Peel

The optiphi Skin Rejuvenation Peel is a great entry level peel experience for those keen to see the results of a skin peel without the unpleasant side effects generally associated with more intensive skin peels such as excessive redness, swelling and flaking.

The optiphi Skin Rejuvenation Peel is a solution for all skin conditions. Combining the regenerative capabilities of Glycolic Acid and intensely hydrating active ingredients, the Optiphi® Glycolic Acid Skin Rejuvenation Peel is an excellent lunch-time peel that will reveal vibrant, youthful skin.

The optiphi Glycolic Acid Peel is a superficial peel supported by a large body of clinical data and endorsed by optiphi’s Technical Director, Dr Hugo Nel, a plastic surgeon by profession.


Chemical peels are one of the best ways to refresh your skin when it’s feeling dull and rough, so if you’re struggling with skin tone and texture that’s leaving you looking a big rough around the edges, a Glycolic Acid peel might be the best bet for a “quick fix”



Tips for a Glycolic Acid Skin Peel

  • Winter is the best time of the year to undergo skin peels as the conditions are most suited to this treatment (limited sun exposure)
  • Stop all topically applied prescription Vit A containing creams, for three days before and five days after your treatment. (Unless your skin care professional tells you otherwise).
  • Use a broad spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen daily before, during and after you treatment.
  • Use melanocyte calming ingredients prior to, during and after the peel as prescribed.
  • Make sure you are using a well formulated skin care range that’s going to maintain a healthy skin barrier.
  • Always use your aftercare products as prescribed. This will ensure your newly-exposed skin is not unprotected against harsh elements, pollution, and environmental aggressors.

Things to Avoid after a Chemical Skin Peel

  • Sun exposure.
  • Exfoliators – your skin must heal itself and the damaged skin must stay in place to form a biological band aid.
  • Vitamin A and Alpha Hydroxy acid containing products.
  • Travel (especially if you are going to be in an plane for an extended period of time.)
  • Picking your skin – this can lead to pigmentation and scarring!

Things to Do after a Chemical Skin Peel

  • Use your sunscreen daily. Your skin is new and tender, making it more susceptible to sunburn.
  • If you are doing a peel that entails some flaking or downtime ensure that you are using a barrier supporting product as prescribed. Dry skin does not heal faster.
  • And in pigmentation treatments, it’s important to use a serum to assist in calming the melanocytes. This will prevent the over production of melanin during the period of the peel and recovery from the procedure.


Where to have a Glycolic Acid Skin Peel in South Africa

optiphi Chemical Skin Peels are offered by over 270 optiphi stockists across South Africa.

Click this link to find your nearest optiphi stockist



Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

  1. Thank you for this…very informative! I’m starting to get into these things now…Vit A, retinol and I was going for peels a while back and I don’t think I was informed properly of the do’s and don’ts (s??) .

    1. Hey Simone. Glad you found the post helpful and feel more informed by it. My job here is done 😉 Well, done after you go for your first optiphi glycolic peel! haha This is an area I’m growing in knowledge too. I’m no expert in the skincare / beauty arena, but I want to grow my knowledge and help to educate other “every moms” in it too! Thanks for taking the time to comment x

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