Glycolic Acid vs Salicylic Acid (Alpha Hydroxyl vs Beta Hydroxyl) - Why do we make Glycolic Acid as our Dominant Approach?

Simply put… it has the most advantages and the fewest disadvantages. Other BHA or AHA peels treat one or two skin symptoms only. Glycolic acid treats many… at once. So, you not only get the result you want, you also get smoother skin. Plus, glycolic acid doesn’t have a high risk of causing skin irritations, swelling, or excessive peeling. You can peel and then go party with no worries.

Difference between Alpha and Beta Hydroxyl acids

Chemists label functional groups that are attached to carbons with numbers and/or Greek letters. Hydroxy, or hydroxyl, which is an alcohol (OH), is one such functional group name. Just because something has a hydroxyl group doesn’t make it bad; they are not necessarily bad or dehydrating. Your DNA has lots of hydroxyl groups, for example. When a carboxylic acid, such as glycolic or salicylic acid, has a hydroxyl group attached to the first carbon next to the acid group, it’s called an alpha-hydroxy acid. If the hydroxyl group is attached to the second carbon it’s referred to as a beta-hydroxy acid. It’s as simple as that.

Which Chemical Peel is Right for You? 

What is Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid is a mild AHA acid that is derived from milk. A much weaker acid than glycolic acid. Lactic acid is best known as an acid peel for skin discolorations. A lactic acid peel is also recommended for Rosacea as it is the mildest of AHA peels.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is derived from willow tree bark. And unlike lactic acid and glycolic acid, salicylic acid is a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA). BHA acids are oil soluble and are mostly used to penetrate deep into the pores for removal of oils that cause acne. Salicylic acid is best used as a first step in a daily or weekly exfoliation process. It will remove all the oils from the skin, making it easier for an AHA acid such as glycolic acid to completely cleanse and exfoliate the skin. The one advantage that salicylic acid does have over lactic acid or glycolic acid is that is self neutralizing. As the salicylic acid solution evaporates, the acid itself becomes neutralized.

What is TCA (Trichloreacetic Acid)?

TCA, or Trichloroacetic Acid peels, are deeper medium depth peels. Since the TCA peels exfoliate deeper into the dermis than a salicylic acid or glycolic acid peel, they have more potent and longer lasting results. That is why a TCA is typically used for quick treatment of a bad scar or freckles, and to lighten tattoos. There is however, a downside to the TCA peels… their healing or downtime tends to be much longer and the peeling is much more severe. Plus, TCA are costly ranging from $500-$1,200 per treatment and should only be done in office by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.