Does Glycolic Acid Peel Treatment for Acne Scars Work?

Alpha Hydroxy Glycolic Acid peel
Alpha Hydroxy Glycolic Acid peel

Alpha Hydroxy 10% Glycolic Acid peel

Using a glycolic acid peel to treat acne and acne scars is a very effective method which is often done in high end day spas, but can also be applied in your home.  Several studies (see below) indicate this treatment actually works.

How Does It Work?

These treatments work by helping to stimulate new skin cells, and also encouraging increased collagen production in the skin.

This process then eliminates the old, scarred skin which will both help prevent new acne from forming and also reduce the appearance of old acne scars.

Which Strength Do You Need?

People new to glycolic acid peels will want to start out with a product which is around 10% acidity, which can be purchased from most drug stores, or applied by a professional at a day spa.

Once your skin is used to this level (typically after just two or three uses) you can gradually move up to stronger products based on your need. For particularly bad cases of acne scars doctors can use products which are up to 70% acidic.

Most people will not need anything near that strength and it is often considered better to just use a lower dose like 50% for longer than to get something to strong which could cause the skin to become painful.

For many people it takes several treatments to find the perfect strength which will be most effective without causing pain and discomfort.  Most people can tolerate higher levels as their skin gets used to the process so it can be fine tuned over time to get maximum results.

How Long Will Recovery Take?

Glycolic acid peels are very popular because, if applied correctly, there is little recovery time needed.  For most people there is very little irritation or blistering on the skin and there are visible results quite quickly.

While full results may not be completed for months or even longer, it is a gradual process with steady improvement.

As your skin begins the process of replacing the old, scared skin with new skin the scars will appear lighter and lighter over time.  Any bumps or craters in the skin will slowly fade as well.

Most products will include moisturizers in them as well so they are not only encouraging the new skin to eliminate the scars but also helping the new and existing skin to be much healthier.

Does It Hurt?

This whole process is typically a pleasant experience since there is normally very little pain or discomfort associated with it as long as it is done correctly.  Some people who try to jump right to a very strong product may experience burning or redness.

But if you follow the recommended process or allow a trained cosmetologists to do the treatment for them they will almost certainly be very satisfied with the results and experience little if any discomfort.

Which Brand Should I Choose?

As long as the expectations are reasonable, most people are very satisfied with the results of glycolic acid peels for acne scars.  It is not an overnight fix for complete elimination of all acne and acne scars but it does work quite well and allows people to have a very safe and effective way to get rid of the unsightly acne scars.

A best seller among 10% glycolic acid peels is Alpha Hydrox Enhanced Lotion 10 percent Glycolic AHA — 6 fl oz

Make sure to apply sunscreen because glycolic acid peels make your skin more sensitive.

But Does Glycolic Acid Peel Treatment for Acne Scars Really Work?

Let’s have a look at what clinical studies have to say.

There have been a number of reputable and professional academic studies carried out around the world over a significant period of time, which are free from bias – and therefore it is perfectly possible to be able to validate the claims that have been made.


To take one example, the March 1999 edition of the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology published a report, by Cagliari University in Italy, which specifically set out to answer our important question. Here is a brief synopsis and the conclusion of the report:

  • 80 women, aged 13–40 years, were selected for the study – 32 had comedonic acne, 40 had papulo-pustolar acne and 8 had nodule-cystic acne
  • The chemical peels were performed with a 70% glycolic acid solution, for times that varied in a range between 2 and 8 minutes, depending on the intensity of the clinical response.
  • The most rapid improvement was observed in comedonic acne; the papulo-pustular acne needed an average of six applications and nodular-cystic forms needed eight to ten.
  • A significant, painless improvement of the post-acne superficial scarring was noted
  • Conclusion – the peels are an effective treatment for all types of acne scarring, resulting rapid improvement and restoration to normal looking skin.


The January 1997 edition of the Journal of Dermatological Surgery contains a ethnocentric test on acne-related issues:

  • 40 Asian candidates were treated with four series of 15%, 35% and 50% glycolic acid peels.
  • Consistent and repetitive treatment with glycolic acid was needed for the apparent improvement of acne scars and cystic lesions.
  • Only small percentage of patients (5.6%) developed side effects.


The January 1994 edition of the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology also reports impressive results:

  • Without other skin preparation, 70% glycolic acid was applied to the entire face and diluted with water after 2 minutes.
  • Biopsies were done on selected patients after 24 hours and 30, 60, and 90 days.
  • Although the peel resulted in medium depth injury, improvement in pigmentary dyschromias and actinic damage was impressive.


Finally, a more recent study was published in the January 2009 edition of the Journal of Dermatological Surgery which produced some interesting results; they illustrate that there are alternative treatments available which may give even better results than glycolic acid peels. Especially when treating active acne instead of acne scars.

  • Forty-four patients with facial acne and post-acne scarring and hyperpigmentation were divided into two groups, with one receiving 35% Glycolic Acid peels and the other 20% salicylic/10% mandelic acid peels (SMPs) every two weeks for six sessions.
  • The conclusion was that both the agents were effective, but SMPs had a higher efficacy for most active acne lesions (p<.001) and hyperpigmentation (p<.001).
  • Side effects were also lesser with SMPs.

The full reports noted above are searchable online if any further scrutiny is required.


Glycolic acid peeling in the treatment of acne – Wiley Online Library.

The Effect of Glycolic Acid on the Treatment of Acne in Asian Skin – Wiley Online Library.

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