Glycolic 10, 30, 50%: How Do I Choose A Peel That Won’t Burn Me?

posted in: Ingredient Spotlight, Peels

It can be confusing looking at product labels which list Glycolic Acid as an ingredient. Even if they DO give you a percent strength, what does that mean, and can it be relied on to tell you how a product will react with your skin?

In short: sort of, it’s complicated, one number doesn’t tell the whole story. There are multiple factors to consider when choosing a peel strength.

Did you know that peels can be either buffered or unbuffered, but as long as they start with the same percentage strength, two very different peels can claim to both be Glycolic 30%? Buffered means watered down (although other ingredients can be used to dilute a peel, not just water). So guess which peel is going to be MUCH stronger feeling on your skin? The unbuffered, but peels don’t have to say if they’re buffered or not.

So what does that mean? Don’t assume the percentage strength listed on the bottle will tell the whole story. Just because you’ve used a 50% strength peel from one company, that may not equal a 50% with a different brand.

Start low: It’s better to start with a lower strength peel, as in 5-15% strength, since an acid like Glycolic Acid is actually time-dependent. You can get the same results with a 10% glycolic peel by leaving it on for a few minutes, versus leaving a 50% peel on for a few seconds.

Plus, that’s scary isn’t it? When direction time to use a product is measured in seconds? That leaves very little room for error (you apply a peel, the phone rings, oh darn you left the peel on for 20 extra seconds and you’re turning red as a tomato!).

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