What is a Glycolic Facial?

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  • Originally Written By: Tina Samuels
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 26 April 2020
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A glycolic facial, sometimes also called a glycolic acid facial, is a type of skin care treatment in which the acid is applied to the skin of the face — usually in diluted or compounded form — in order to deeply penetrate, cleanse, and restore the skin. The acid can usually achieve a better clean than ordinary soap or over-the-counter facial scrubs, most of which focus on the top layer of skin. The human face is made of several layers, though; one of the biggest benefits of acid treatments is their ability to get down deep, cleaning and smoothing in a way that typically lasts a long time. It’s often also the case that the effects are more profound and more immediate. People tend to end up with skin that is softer to the touch and has the appearance of fewer lines and wrinkles. The treatment can be harsh, particularly for people with sensitive skin, and in most cases it’s not recommended more than once a month or so; additionally, most skin care experts discourage home applications, instead recommending that people receive treatments only from trained professionals.

Understanding Glycolic Acid Generally

Glycolic acid is a chemical element that occurs naturally in most sugar canes, but can also be created synthetically in labs. It carries the chemical formula C2H4O3. The acid, which is sometimes also referred to as hydroxyacetic acid on labels and product packaging, has a number of important uses in industry. Food manufacturers sometimes use it as a preservative, and textilers and those in large-scale fabric and upholstery sales sometimes apply it as a means of sealing in colors and dyes. In skin care, it’s predominantly used as an exfoliant and a means to clean and polish the skin almost from the inside out.

Effects on the Face

The acid works to buff or peel away the topmost layer of skin. Technically it will work on any skin anywhere on the body, but skin care experts usually focus on the face because this is where people often have the most problems with oil and dirt build-up, as well as where wrinkles and fine lines are the most apparent. Almost anyone can benefit from a glycolic treatment, but those who are transitioning into middle age, who have mild to moderate sun damage, or other skin tone issues often see the most profound effects. If the glycolic treatment is added in with a bleaching agent, the facial can also remove some age spots and blotchiness.

Why it Works

The peel itself helps the body remove dead tissue, allowing it to be replaced with new, fresh skin. This often has the effect of making the face appear younger and tighter. The acid is usually combined with a milder scrub or cream to help it adhere, but the main idea is that the acid itself penetrates beneath the surface and forces the younger skin below to rise to the top. Older skin on the surface basically peels away, which is where the “peel” part of the treatment name comes from.

Procedural Basics

Glycolic treatments typically include both pre-procedure and post-procedure routines. Before getting the actual glycolic facial treatment, for instance, a person should typically not use any masks, scrubs, or other exfoliating creams on the face. Use of self-tanners, facial waxing, or vitamin A compounds should also be avoided for the two days prior to the facial. These compounds can weaken the skin and can enable the acid to penetrate deeper than it should or more harshly than it normally would, which can lead to damage and irritation. In most cases no one who is taking the prescription drug Accutane®, who has cold sores and fever blisters, or who is sunburned should undergo the treatment, either. Conditions like these can similarly make the acid treatment harsher than it normally would be.

There are also a number of precautions to think about after the procedure is complete. Patients should normally refrain from exercise or other activities that may cause a lot of sweat for several hours. Direct sun exposure should be avoided, too, and wearing strong sunscreen out of doors is a must. Patients can normally use mild makeup, but facial waxing products, vitamin A compounds, or treatments containing the druc Retin-A® should not be used for approximately two days after the facial.

Common Side Effects

Some people may feel tightness in the skin, skin dehydration, dryness, and some crusting in the days after a glycolic peel. The skin may also discolor temporarily. These symptoms are not uncommon, but if they are particularly bothersome or seem to last a long time, the client should contact the professional who performed the treatment.

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Discuss this Article

Post 2

@Latte31 -I agree that the glycolic face peels are not for everyone. I rather use exfoliators and scrubs in order to have smoother skin.

I had glycolic facials in the past and they do make skin look great, but I just don’t like the process.

Post 1

I just wanted to say that I got a glycolic facial once and it did make my skin smoother. The active ingredient is the salicylic acid which is found in most exfoliating creams.

I decided to go that route and use a nightly exfoliating cream. It is much more pleasant and the results are just as visible. I also think that if you exercise daily and drink a lot of water you will also see positive changes in your skin. You will actually start to see a glow on your face which is due to the increased circulation from the exercise.

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