What are the differences between salicylic, lactic, and glycolic skin peels and how do they work on the skin?
First off, you should note that the percentage number referred to in peels (such as 10%, 20% 50%, etc. ) does not refer to the strength of the peel, but rather the pH level of the product is what makes a peel stronger.
I see many lactic or glycolic acid products and facials on the market that are misleadingly labeled as "strong" because their levels are 50% or 70%, but keep in mind that the pH level is usually not lower than 3 to 4 percent.
Remember: A higher percentage number doesn't make a product or peel stronger. In fact, the lower the pH level, the stronger it is.
Lactic and glycolic peels provide similar results--- and both are considered AHA peels. Salicylic is a BHA. I'll explain the difference below.
Glycolic is best for treating acne, acne scars, oily skin, blackheads and fine lines. A glycolic and lactic combination is wonderful if you are looking to have fewer breakouts along with a beautiful complexion. Anyone who has received a facial in the last twenty years has most likely received some sort of light glycolic skin peel or facial.
Glycolic acid is the most active and beneficial of the alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHA) in the skin care industry. It is usually made from sugar cane. It is the only AHA that is able to penetrate through cell walls by virtue of its small molecular size. Once inside the cell, it will trigger the new formation of collagen and turn on the synthesis of dermal glycosaminoglycans to plump up the cell to help reduce wrinkles on the skin's surface. Glycolic acid also allows keratin cells to form at the bottom of the stratum corneum causing it to lift off and separate from the underlying skin. This gives the skin a much smoother look and feel.
Lactic acid is a great for treating deep or fine lines, textured skin, discoloration and scars. It is a natural humectant which occurs naturally in the skin because it is able to pull moisture from the air, and hold it into the skin. A light amount of lactic acid is less irritating (unless the pH level is low, then people can have a very strong reaction to it) and it's more moisturizing than a glycolic skin peel.
Lactic is best for treating dry skin, aging skin, and sun-damaged skin. Lactic is also great for sensitive skin types, or clients who are new to skin peels.
Salicylic acid is amazing for acne, oily skin, nodules and cystic acne. It is a milder acid (unless your skin care professional uses a higher percentage with a lower pH) that works as a keratolytic agent to encourage exfoliation. It's safe for the treatment for mild and moderate acne, oily skin, uneven texture and post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation. Salicylic acid helps unclog pores in order to reduce and prevent lesions.
Lactic and salicylic peels complement each other perfectly and that's how the Jessner skin peel was created. A Jessner solution has 14% lactic and 14% salicylic acid and 14% resorcinol combined. This combination offers a superior exfoliation for the treatment of acne, pigmentation and wrinkles, but can cause some skin irritation and post-inflammation if not done properly.
THE TAKE AWAY
The biggest difference between the two hydroxyl acids (BHAs and AHAs) is their lipid (oil) solubility. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water soluble, and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are oil soluble. BHAs are able to penetrate deeper into the pore, which contains sebum and helps to control exfoliation of the dead skin cells that build up inside the pore. Salicylic acid is the only BHA known for the treatment of acne and acne-prone skin types.
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