Glycolic Vs. Salicylic Acid - Which Peel is Better for Acne?

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.

Doctor Answers 28

Salicylic acid slightly superior

You are asking whether the alpha-hydroxy acid, Glycolic acid, or the beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid is superior. In this case I am going to have to go with the Beta dog, sal acid.
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.

Virginia Beach Dermatologist
4.5 out of 5 stars 13 reviews

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

Both of these acids are used for minor "peels" and often used as "adjuvants" for treating acne. However, not convinced that either alone are any more beneficial than the other. To be most effective , either glycolic or salicylic need to be combined with an appropriate acne regimen that consists of prescription creams and oral antibiotics for more severe cases.

Steven Hacker, MD
West Palm Beach Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 4 reviews

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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.

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Better acne peels

Thank you for your question. For the most part, people respond differently to different peels. In my opinion, both are very good for acne. I've had pbatients that cleared up with glycolic peels and topical Duac after several chemical peel treatments. Salicylic acid is very popular as well. My recommendation is to alternate between the two and see which one works better for you.

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Sal Acid Peel

For Acne, a Salicylic Acid peel will help decrease oil and help cause P. Acne bacteria death, thus decreasing acne. This is often the best treatment for active acne however Glycolic acid is a good treatment for anyone who also suffers with acne scars. Sal Acid helps better penetration of follicules and pores which also cna make medication absorb better into the skin. 

Eric Schweiger, MD
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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.

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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.

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Glycolic Vs. Salicylic Acid - Which Peel is Better for Acne? #acne

Thank you for contacting our office!

Glycolic and Salicylic are both treatable acids for acne concerns.

Salicylic acid is a BHA (beta Hydroxy acid) which is a oil soluble acid that penetrates deeper then any other acid to treat acne. It treats your acne concerns by working quickly, and more effectively then any Glycolic peel. Salicyclic acid comes from willow bark which calms the irritation and kills bacteria under the skin. It also helps unclog pores and prevents any further lesions.

Glycolic acid is an AHA (Alpha hydroxy acid) that is water soluble and helps your acne concerns by lightening hyperpigmentation from breakouts once your skin has calmed down. It comes from sugar cane and the acid assists in providing a smoother texture.

I would recommend you find a credible medical aesthetician in your area and begin with a biweekly facial and chemical peel that combines the use of these two acids.  I am sure your aesthetician will help place you on a program regime. 

I hope this helps you!

Best Peels for Acne

For acneic skin types, we prefer blended acid peels because they can address a variety of issues that come with acne, including inflammation and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.  One of our most successful peels for all skin types, the ZO Medical 3 Step Peel contains a blend of salicylic acid, TCA, and lactic acid does wonderfully on acneic skin because it addresses multiple issues, and can be repeated every 3-4 weeks.  We have had outstanding results in our office when peels are combined with a personalized at home skin care regimen. 

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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.