I have light to moderate acne, and a friend suggested that I start getting monthly chemical peels. I've read up on glycolic acid peel and salicylic acid peel but they seems so similar I don't know which one would be a better acne treatment. Please tell me which one works best.
Glycolic Vs. Salicylic Acid - Which Peel is Better for Acne?
Doctor Answers 22
Salicylic acid slightly superior
A study published in Dermatologic Surgery last year compared the two types of peels and gave the nod to the salicylic acid peel. This study, performed by dermatologists at the St. Louis University confirmed the impression that most dermatologists have had for years: that the Beta peel is preferred for acne and the glycolic peel for skin lightening and rejuvenation.
The results of the Beta hydroxy acid peel (BHA) lasted a bit longer and had fewer side effects such as irritation. Both peels were effective in reducing acne lesions, however.
This was the only study I am aware of that compared these two peels.
Usually the beneficial effect of the peels occurred in about two weeks.
Salicylic acid peels typically better for acne
Typically, Salicylic acid peels are better for acne, but glycolic peels in higher concentration can be also very effective. Sometimes, alternating them is a good idea to see how your skin will respond to each of them. Remember that a series of peels will be necessary and maintenance peels to keep your acne under control. Usually not one peel or treatment works for acne, so multiple different treatments, sometimes combined with prescription medication will help.
Salicylic acid or glycolic acid for acne
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Acne and Salicylic Acid Peels
Salicylic acid peels penetrate deeper into the oil gland than the glycolic acid peels do, and cause less inflammation on your face---so go with the Salicylic acid. It comes in a number of different strengths, and can be customized just for you. You might also speak with your dermatologist about using some prescription topical medications at home every day to maximize your best skin.
Sal Acid Peel
Both Superficial Peels
Both of these are superficial peels. Glycolic acid is the stronger of the two, so generally, I have more success with it. Both can help with papules and pustules of acne.
Salicylic acid is really mild….really, really mild. While there can be some mild improvement in acne and skin texture, the penetration of salicylic acid makes the impact very low. It also makes the downtime very low, usually just an hour of redness. If you can tolerate a few hours of redness, I’d recommend beginning with glycolic acid. It’s still a superficial peel, but has shown much better activity against both the bacteria that causes acne as well as black/whiteheads (called comedones). You’ll need fewer treatments and get better results.
Salicylic acid better for lighter skin types, Glycolic better for darker skin types
Generally, I prefer salicylic acid peels for patients with lighter skin types. For patients with darker skin types, who have acne, they usually also want to lighten dark spots left behind from acne spots. Glycolic acid peels are best for patients with darker skin tones, since they even out pigmentation and treat acne.
Salicylic acid or glycolic peels better for treating acne
However, if salicylic acid is not an option, glycolic peels can give great results, too.
Salicylic acid is better
1. It is anti-inflammatory- a good thing if you have acne
2. You can choose a concentration that is not dependent on your previous treatment. For glycolic acid peels, specialists typically start at 20% and increase. We can start sal. acid peels at different concentrations
3. Sal acid peels are self neutralizing, hence safer than glycolic acid.
4. You actually get peeling with a good strength sal acid peel.
We typically use sal acid 18-23%, and get great results- especially for blackheads.
Dr Davin Lim
Cosmetic and Laser Dermatologist
Brisbane and Gold Coast
These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.