Anti Aging

How to do a Glycolic Acid Peel at Home

Woman with hands on neck

Two facts: 1) a glycolic acid peel is one of the best treatments for clear, smooth skin. 2) you can do one at home.

Using glycolic acid in a higher percentage (aka a peel) can clear up blocked pores, pigmentation, help with fine lines, and brighten your complexion.

This is an active ingredient and it really works.

Another fact: doing a glycolic acid peel at home is reasonably easy with the right steps! And those exact steps on are on this page.

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*Quick note: this is a guide only. Please consult a professional if you are unsure.

What is Glycolic Acid and Why is it so Good for Skin?

Derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid has the smallest molecule of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid group (AHA’s). It can penetrate deeply into pores and dissolve the “glue” that binds dead cells together, sloughing off dead skin cells and providing an even exfoliation.

See this page for more about glycolic acid.

Benefits of Using a Glycolic Acid Peel

If this benefit list doesn’t motivate you to start an at-home peel treatment plan, we’re not sure what will!

  • Provides an even, deep exfoliation
  • Helps clear blocked pores and blackheads
  • Reduces pigmentation
  • Stimulates skin cells to increase turnover which results in a renewed, healthier looking complexion
  • This also helps decrease fine lines and other anti-aging concerns
  • Glycolic acid has a cumulative effect. With frequent use can stimulate collagen and greatly improve skins texture

How to Do a Glycolic Acid Peel at Home

Follow these step by step instructions, which include a suggested treatment plan you can follow and recommended products.

Of course, please be sure to follow any specific instructions that come with your product.

Where to Start? Peel Concentration and pH

An effective glycolic facial peel should be between 30 – 50% concentration.

Anything higher is too strong, do not use 70%. This is a level best left to a professional, if at all. You will get the same benefits with lighter facial peels if you do them safely and consistently.

What about pH?

Normal pH of skin is about 5.5, so slightly acidic. Glycolic peels ability to bring skin back to its optimal pH is one reason why they are so beneficial.

Ideal pH for a peel: between 2-3.

Higher and the effect is neutralized. Lower and it’s the equivalent of battery acid!

What does all this mean for you?

It is best to start with a concentration of 30% with a pH of 2-3.

Picture of Glycolic Peel Product

Here is a beginning schedule at this level. This is best for people who have not done glycolic peels before or have sensitive skin:

  • For the first 2 – 3 treatments apply the peel for 1 minute
  • Increase by 2minute increments each time until you reach 5 minutes maximum
  • Once you have done two or three 30% peel treatments at 5 minutes increase to 40%
  • Repeat steps 1 – 2 and build up to 50%
  • Important: depending on your skin this build up might not be necessary. A lot of people have perfect results from staying at the lower dose. So take your time, keep an eye on your skin, be confident that glycolic acid does work even if you need to stay with a “lower” percentage.

What You’ll Need

You’ll need some equipment to perform your peel. Get yourself ready and organized with the list below.

  • A simple, gentle cleanser
  • Rubbing alcohol or skin prep (you can use the little pads that come in first aid kits). This thoroughly dries the skin and removes surface oils to allow the peel to work effectively
  • Glycolic acid peel 30%
  • A small glass bowl to apply the product or a normal drinking glass works fine
  • A fan brush or gauze/cotton pad
  • 1/2 cup baking soda mixed with 2cups water to neutralize the peel at the end. You can simply mix this up in your sink.
  • There are specific neutralizers like this one, but baking soda and water is just as good. Put a soft washcloth or a bunch of cotton pads by the bowl or sink ready to use
  • Vaseline to protect eyebrows, lip area and nostrils.
  • A heavy emollient moisturizer. This is important after a peel which provides a deep exfoliation and removes the surface layer of skin cells. Those new exposed cells now need moisture and protection.
  • A timer/clock

How to do a Glycolic Acid Peel Step-by-Step

Woman holding a cotton pad to her face

  • Cleanse and dry skin
  • Apply rubbing alcohol as you would a toner and allow to air dry completely. Do not worry about this drying out your skin, this is exactly what you want it to do so the peel can work its magic
  • Make sure you have the baking soda solution ready beside you or in the sink
  • Apply Vaseline to eyebrows, lip area and nostrils
  • Pour a small amount of glycolic facial peel into the glass bowl
  • Using the fan brush apply to skin quickly and carefully. Start on the forehead, move down the nose and chin then out to cheeks
  • Applying with a gauze pad works well, just make sure you wear gloves and squeeze it to prevent drips
  • Apply evenly in one layer (but don’t worry about being too fussy), the acid will start working straight away
  • Avoid the eye, lip and neck area. They don’t have as many oil glands as the rest of the face so can react more severely
  • Start timing as soon as you apply that first stroke 
  • Be very careful to not get any in your eyes
  • Avoid any broken skin or active breakouts
  • Relax, and watch your skin in the mirror

What to Expect:

  • Skin will tingle which is a good sign! It is normal to feel “bitey” but if it is painful or too uncomfortable neutralize straight away.
  • Pink or redness particularly in more sensitive areas such as cheeks. Watch your skin in the mirror and if it becomes overly red or blotchy/motley, neutralize immediately.
  • The tingling can subside after the first 30seconds. Don’t mistake this for it no longer working, if left on skin it will continue to provide an acid effect so stick to the timer.
  • Once you begin neutralizing expect the sting to intensify briefly, but just continue as this quickly subsides.

How to Remove a Glycolic Acid Peel

Lady splashing water on face

  • Once the minute is up, apply the baking soda solution all over your face by splashing it and/or using a soft cloth 
  • Repeat for at least 1 minute until you are confident you’ve applied it thoroughly. Remember it will sting more briefly at the start
  • Rinse skin with water – If it feels hot keep splashing until it has cooled down and more comfortable
  • Pat dry skin and apply a very generous layer of moisturizer/oil
  • If you have time apply a soothing, nourishing mask after removing. This is what happens in professional facials as the skin is perfectly primed to absorb all that moisturizing goodness
  • It’s best to do this in the evening so you won’t be outside and exposed afterwards
  • Very important to wear a high spf sunscreen and preferable to avoid the sun altogether for a few days afterwards

Expectations and Aftercare

  • Skin might be dry for a few days as the top layer as been removed. Keep applying that heavy moisturizer. Coconut oil also works well
  • Do not exfoliate for at least a week. In fact, you won’t need to at all while doing chemical peels at home, they are the most effective exfoliation by themselves and anything else will be very irritating
  • Skin will probably be very sensitive and perhaps a bit pink and shiny for a few days. Avoid excessive heat or harsh conditions
  • it is important to wear a high SPF sunscreen every day. The new layers won’t take kindly to sun exposure, which can result in a more severe sunburn and pigmentation
  • There may be slight flaking. Just keep slathering on the moisturizer – don’t pick it! 

Your Treatment Plan: how often and maintenance

You will see benefits after your first glycolic facial peel at home. A smoother, fresher looking complexion, and a nice glow for a few days.

Long term benefits will need at least 4 treatments to show. In this time cell turnover will increase and the surface of skin will be healthier.

How often should you perform glycolic acid peeling at home?

  • once every 2-3 weeks is ideal – not too close together but enough to get cumulative effects

Once you’ve done a few peels at this rate and are seeing good results, a maintenance treatment once every 1 or 2 months is all that’s needed. This will avoid over-peeling effects such as thinning or sensitivity.

It really is better to take the side of caution – don’t mistake the instant glow that peels give you as a reason to do them stronger and more often.

You know your skin best, and once you’ve done a couple will be able to adjust strength and timing by look and feel.

Enjoy the clearing and rejuvenating benefits of a glycolic facial peel!

Once you’ve incorporated a regular acid peel into your routine, you won’t look back and everyone will wonder where that glow is coming from 🙂

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34 Comments

  1. I going to use glycolic acid 40% first time. I have been using home made vitamin c serum. I have done several derma rolling sessions as well. Should I stop using this serum and doing roller session post or pre the glycolic peel ?please let me know.

  2. Hello all.l did a 10% glycolic acid peel last night and left it on overnight. L woke up to my whole face peeling immensely and had to pick the skin that was sticking out which left it veery raw, shiny and red. I then applied L’Oréal age perfect facial oil. I’m now scared to get burnt and have the raw areas darken.what can l do to make sure the areas don’t darken and

    1. Overnight? Oh, how painful it must have been! I’m sorry! I’m sure you’ve learned to only leave it on for a few minutes, 10 maximum.

  3. i used 30% glycolic acid peel for 1 min for the 1st time. My skin is not feeling dry or layering out. i don’t see any change. Should i keep it for a long time???

    1. You’re going to need to do multiple peels at possibly higher percentages before you are able to see any visible difference. GLycolic peels won’t have a dramatic, sudden reaction (if done correctly and safely), you need to do them weekly and even then, it’s a subtle improvement. Ideally, your skin won’t literally be peeling off – it’s gradual.

      Don’t expect changes, however subtle, until you’ve done at least 4 – 5 peels at 40%-50% acid levels.

      Good luck!

  4. Hi, has anyone tried this on the back of their hands? Can you leave it longer than the face? Any tips appreciated. Thanks!

    1. I put the acid on the back of my hands first. It is very difficult to get them to peel. It needs to sit in the hands longer. Works great!!

    2. Hi, I do 70% glycolic peel on the back of my hands (and on my face), I’ve only done it 3-4 times so far so I haven’t really seen any major difference, maybe a *bit* of lightening of the sun damage I’m self conscious about.

      Either way, you won’t see visible peeling of your skin (hopefully!) – the word “peel” gives that impression but it’s a subtle and gradual peel that is happening at a deep level under your skin and although light *literal* peeling may occur, it’s not always the result, even with successful peels.

      Deep, intense peeling of the top layers of skin occurs after people go to the dermatologist and have laser peels or microdermabrasion. These procedures are far more effective but also take a lot of time to heal, and there’s a lot of aftercare involved due to the deep peeling. People can look like they were in a fire or were severely burned, and need to really be meticulous for weeks afterward with how they care for themselves. I think people envision THIS happening after a 50%-60% glycolic peel, which is not going to be the case if you’re doing them right.

      Be careful and good luck! Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate results.

  5. I just did a glycolic peel at home today my peel is 50% but I diluted it half purified water and half peel to reduce the strength to 25%. Was that ok to do?

  6. I bought a 50% peel for my first time I have never done a peel ever and I am really nervous about it. Will the skin be peeling off a lot or do u get hardly any peeling with these? Also how much water to how much of the 50% should I use to dilute it?

    1. 50% for your first time is too high, love. Start with 20-30%. Prep your skin (cleanse) & start with 2 minutes tops. Then add a minute or 2 with each session but no longer than 5. Do this once every week or two. After 6-8 peels, do a maintenance peel once a month. Again, I cannot stress enough, if this is your first time, start off no higher than 20%. Then after several peels, you can adjust. Your skin is not ready for such a high concentration. You’ll very likely cause irreversible skin damage.

  7. thanks for this info… i want to try glycolic acid peel.. what is the best acid peel gel or liquid? i have blemishes in my face. tnx

  8. 1:4 ratio of baking soda solution?!

    Doesn’t 80% of your 1/2 cup of baking soda just end up as sediment sitting on the bottom of your sink with those amounts?

    1. I agree with your comment! I use about 1/3 or 1/4 cups of baking soda and it works perfectly fine.

      What I find works best is putting the baking soda+water solution in a bowl instead of filling it directly in the sink.

      There are extra baking soda sediments floating at the bottom of the bowl so I’ll usually do a quick stir so that the baking soda dissolves a bit more before I splash it on my face.

  9. Can I use a 50% peel for my backne? I’ve done glycolic peel before but it’s been years. Also, is it possible to dilute a 70% glycolic peel so as not it’s too strong?

  10. I make a DIY vitamin C serum. Should I avoid using this after a peel? I imagine that it will absorb better (a plus), but sting more (a minus). What do you think?

    1. If you haven’t used the Vit C serum before I would wait a day or two, as your skin will likely be fairly sensitive after the peel already. Another option is to try it on a small patch of skin and see how it goes before applying to the rest of your face. I always advise caution – most things like this won’t do extreme damage however a week of irritated or extremely dry skin probably isn’t worth it. Hope that helps!

    2. We know that:
      Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties. [1]
      Vitamin C in concentrations stronger than 20% will not promote faster absorption. [1]
      Around 3 days of daily application is required to achieve skin saturation point [2]
      Vitamin C has a half-life of 4 days in the skin once skin saturation is achieved. [2]
      Vitamin C requires a pH of 3.5 or less to remain stable, which at 3.5 less acidic than vinegar or coke – about the level of wine.

      Based on the above, we can surmise the following:
      1. Just applying regularly at 20% will achieve maximum concentration levels in the skin, and is the best way, so don’t feel you NEED to try and cram it in during any extra absorption bonus time (if there is one).

      2. Delaying 1-2 days from your last Vit C application to let your peel settle down won’t destroy your Vit C reservoirs, with 70% still remaining 2 days later.

      3. Having said that, Vit C has anti-inflammatory properties, and pH 3.5 isn’t hugely acidic, so it probably wouldn’t do any harm and may even help post-treatment inflammation. You said you DIY your own so just make it to 3.5 if you do (don’t put it on un-buffered as the L-ascorbic solution I make using the powder has a pH of around 2.4 or something at 20% strength).

      What I found really interesting about the source study [1] was that the addition of just 1%Vit E and 0.5% Ferulic Acid to 15% Vit C increases its efficacy 8 times (at preventing UV damage, idk about Vit C’s other benefits) and that only 55% of sun damage is prevented by sunscreen.

      It also notes no adverse effects when using Vit C in conjunction with AHAs and Retinoids and also cites a study[2] that supports the daily topical application of Vitamin C with 20% glycolic acid over 3 months can significantly help stretch marks. I’m not sure if that’s 20% glycolic acid every day or just the Vit C so, don’t rush out and start applying 20% Glycolic daily without further investigation 🙂

      GL hope this helps.

      sources:
      1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/
      2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11207686

    3. Update to tell of my experimental experience following my previous post:

      I began by applying a 5minute, 30% Glycolic Acid Peel to my face and neck.
      I neutralised the peel with a baking soda solution and a long shower.
      Wanting to test the anti-inflammatory properties of Vitamin C I decided to apply a 20%, pH 3.25 Vit C solution a little while after my shower.

      My skin is of mixed sensitivity. For example, I have no troubles using Tretinoin Microspheres 0.1% my face or decolletage, but I can get irritation when using suncream and moisturisers around my facial mask, and also suffer from mild rosacea appearances.

      Day 0:
      Following the application of the Vit-C, the skin of my decolletage became irritated and slightly inflamed in response, especially the area between my trachea and suprasternal notch and to the sides of this area. It was quite itchy and resisting the urge to scratch it was difficult.

      Day 1:
      I had put midnight recovery oil over it before bed and woke to find it had settled down a lot. I then made the mistake of applying a touch of Kiehl’s Ultra Facial moisturising cream thinking it would help to sooth and it immediately inflamed again in response.

      Day 2:
      I’m hesitant to apply anything now and will just let it settle down on its own now. This is a little difficult to do seeing as when the skin is in its inflamed state it takes on a leathery texture, greatly amplifying the appearance of crease lines. It is still a little itchy but most of the skin, while a little reddened has returned to it’s normal softer texture.

      I had no idea my decolletage could be so sensitive. The urge to itch is driving me a little nuts but I’m glad it’s not as bad as the first day.

      For the record, the Vit-C on my face was fine without a hint of reaction at all.

      If you have or suspect you may have sensitive skin, or just wish to avoid the risks, I recommend avoiding post-Glycolic Acid Treatment Vit-C application, especially on the decolletage area, known for it’s heightened sensitivity. Your mileage may vary for facial applications, but I know that I would hate for my face to go through what my neck is at the moment, so personally, I won’t be taking the risk in future.

  11. Hello! Thank you for this guide. It’s very informative and an excellent tool for beginners like myself.

    My question: when you say rich mousturizer… what would be considered a rich mousturizer? I use L’Oréal Revitalift Mousturizer twice a day.

    1. Thanks for you comment! A rich moisturizer is really anything that can hydrate skin well after a peel, because your skin will likely be drier than normal at least for a day or two. Any moisturizer that is more oil based than water based – usually “dry skin” creams etc, is good. Otherwise, the more simple approach is to continue to use your normal moisturizer, and apply a layer of Aquaphor or Vaseline over top at night. Coconut oil works well too. You’ll be able to tell by your skin how long it needs it, one night may be sufficient 🙂

  12. I will be adding a 30% glycolic acid peel into my skincare routine, but i recently bought a derma pen and i was wandering if i Can use both the pen and glycolic acid in my routine or should i alternate them so i use one at a time and not both at the same time?

    1. I’m not familiar enough with derma pens, I would recommend checking with the manufacturer or the seller. I can say it always pays to be cautious when using any other treatment with a heavier peel – at least for the first few treatments until your skin adjusts.

  13. Hi, I started using salicylic acid 20% once two weeks, can I use it more often? I want to combine I with glycolic acid? How can I do that? Thanks in advance

    1. Hi! If your skin is doing well the the SA 20% yes you could use it once a week, I wouldn’t recommend more than that and you shouldn’t need it. If you want to try Glycolic Acid too then it would be best to alternate weekly, less is usually more with these peels. So one week you could do salicylic, the next glycolic. Keep your skin hydrated and protected in between, and enjoy!

  14. I use a 10% glycolic peel. My skin tingles as soon as I apply it. I started by leaving it on for 2minutes and now 5 minutes. I use this once every two weeks. Is this too often? I have only been doing this for 8 weeks. I am not really seeing any results to date. My upper lip between my nose and lips have always had a darker appearance. It almost looks like a split pencil moustache, and it isn’t hair. I also have the appearance of dark “shadows” on the outer edge of my cheeks where the “hallow” begins. This peel doesn’t seem to be lightening these areas. Should I use a stronger solution? My friend uses a stronger peel, her skin actually flakes after a few days. I don’t get that effect, is that what I should be experiencing?

    1. Hi Sue – flaking isn’t necessary, it does mean the effect was stronger, however it can be annoying in itself and you have to be careful about letting it heal or it can cause further pigmentation problems. In your case I would suggest trying your 10% peel more frequently, once or twice a week and see how that goes. You can also try layering it – apply a layer as usual, wait a few seconds, then apply another. This will increase the strength without needing to buy a stronger peel.
      Keep in mind that really good sun protection is needed especially if you already have pigmentation – this will only get worse with a glycolic peel and the sun. Be extra extra diligent. If the pigmentation is fairly dark and/or has been there for a long time, it will take more to see a difference. You may also need to see a dermatologist for other options such as laser if it is a big concern, but see how this goes first 🙂
      Also keep in mind this is a general suggestion as I can’t give specifics, so please do so with caution and see a professional with any concerns. Good luck, do let us know how you get on!

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