Acid is one freakishly potent chemical. If you’re a fan of the movie Aliens, you know firsthand how lethal doses of acid can punch a hole through steel and eat away human tissue. Lucky for us, these types of Aliens don’t exist, and blood really can’t be made out of acid. Right?
From Cleopatra, With Love
Cleopatra was probably the first documented case of someone who understood the anti-aging benefits of a mild chemical peel. History suggests that she used sour goat’s milk to refresh and rejuvenate her skin. Milk contains lactic acid, part of the alpha hydroxy acid family and a bit milder than glycolic acid, but still used in peel preparations today.
Elizabeth I of England and Elizabeth of Bavaria were also reported to take frequent “milk baths” to rejuvenate their skin. Lavender, honey and essential oils were often mixed in with the milk to enhance its effectivity, but the lactic acid content was usually enough because it dissolved the proteins holding dead skin cells together, promoting new skin growth.
My Acid is Better Than Yours
Not all acids are created equal. Before we go into detail, let’s take a gander at the two main acid groups: alpha hydroxy acids are exfoliants derived from fruit and milk sugars, which include glycolic, lactic and citric acid. There’s only one in the beta hydroxy acid group – salicylic acid – which is either biosynthesized or derived from the bark of a willow tree.
The main difference between the two acid groups are their lipid oil solubility. Alpha hydroxy acids are water soluble only, while beta hydroxy acid is lipid oil soluble. What this means is, for oily skin that’s prone to blackheads and whiteheads, beta hydroxy acid should be used because it can penetrate deep into the pore that contains sebum.
It’ll then exfoliate all the dead skin cells inside the pore and dissolve the glue that holds the cells of the epidermis together. The dead skin cells will then fall off, promoting new skin growth. Alpha hydroxy acids on the other hand, are best used on thickened and sun damaged skin that’s not prone to pimples.
Big Acid, Small Molecule
In terms of effectivity, glycolic acid stands out as one of the most used (and most popular) in chemical peel preparations. This is in large part due to glycolic acid being a naturally occurring substance derived from cane sugar, and its effects are mild when compared to other acids.
Glycolic acid also has the smallest molecules, and the smaller the molecule, the easier it is for the skin to absorb it. That’s why glycolic acid is used in most anti-aging products and doctor’s peels. Used as a chemical peel, glycolic acid is one of the most effective peel preparations to date, and it’s effects are somewhat dramatic.
Similar to lactic acid, glycolic acid penetrates the skin and breaks down the cement that holds each layer together. It’s applied evenly on the skin using a sponge and left for a set amount of time, depending on the concentration. Once the desired effect is reached, the acid can be washed off safely with water. Red skin and peeling follows for several days.
Which Peel Should You Go For?
This really depends on a lot of factors: your skin type, your location on the globe, what you want to accomplish and how far you’re willing to go. People in South East Asia have problems with open pores because of the hot and humid weather conditions, while people in the Baltic States don’t have the same problem because it’s cold. You can read reviews about specific types of acids and serums (like the Hyaluronic acid serum review here) so you make the best choice about which one is right for you.
The best thing you can do is go to a good dermatologist. Avoid the fancy salons. They may have people trained to do the procedures, but they aren’t doctors and won’t be able to diagnose any underlying conditions you may have. Skin doctors will also be able to determine which peel is right for you and how deep they should go to see results.
Over the counter “overnight peels” are OK, but always consult your doctor first before playing dermatologist on your face. After all, you only have one, and if you accidentally melt it off with acid, don’t say we didn’t warn you.