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Glycolic Acid cons and unsuitability for high fitzpatricks!

"Some industry pros, including several of high visibility have recently raised the use of glycolic acid as controversial, as if it is a new issue. In fact, the tiny molecular structure of glycolic acid and its erratic penetration pattern has never NOT proved problematic for the sensitive skin of higher Fitzpatrick types. You may have decided by this point to eliminate glycolic acid from your back bar, or even stepped away from acids in your practice all together, but if it still has a place in your treatment room, it’s critical to carefully consider its potential for causing damage.

The upside of glycolic acid is that it is cheap, acts super fast and is widely available, not unlike McDonalds or soy and cottonseed oil in the processed food industry. Unfortunately, it acts too fast, not getting "the" job done so much as it gets "a" job done. Glycolic acid cons include distinct uncontrollability, uneven penetration and irritation that builds with repeat application. Rome wasn’t built in a day, it’s the end result that counts, not the biggest bang for the client’s buck. Your client purchases a series of six glycolic acid based peels, and unknowingly, perhaps to both practitioner and client, their skin is becoming increasingly sensitized with each application. Send them home with glycolic induced sensitivity to be treated with a glycolic acid based home care product range, and the damage gets worse, not better. Faster does not trump the integrity of building skin up gradually.

We now know that in addition to being an extremely small molecule whose depth penetration is extremely difficult to control, glycolic acid actually causes the cell wall to explode, rather than the slower, gentler desmosome dissolution triggered by other AHAs. The result of this aggressive activity is easily seen in the form of streaky red, dark brown or black marks and patchy tone common on skin that has been ‘peeled’ with high percentages of glycolic acid. Ultimately, it does more harm than good. In a sensitive skin, and certainly in highly reactive higher Fitzpatrick numbers that hyper pigment quite easily, it can be outright destructive, requiring years of recovery.

Behind every line that shuns glycolic acid is a team of experts whose number one objective is conscientious skin healing and nourishment versus quick change tactics. It’s no accident that many of the best lines available to estheticians do NOT use glycolic acid and yet less cognizant pro, drugstore, prestige lines and even some unaware physicians use it with reckless abandon. Unfortunately, individuals tend to gravitate to what they’ve always done because it’s easy - glycolic acid been around for a long time, so people are wary to deviate from " the standard" even if it’s not optimal. Thanks to marketing and promotion by non professional retailers in mass media, consumers are so familiar with it that they often ask for it, unaware that it’s not the best treatment option.

More highly respected among highly conscientious manufacturers and corneotherapy practitioners are enzymes, chemical free smoothing agents and even mechanical measures like microneedling. Should you choose to exclude glycolic acid or even all acids from your practice, there ARE alternatives that enable stricter control over treatment outcomes when working with sensitized skin, sensitive skin or skin of color. One of our biggest responsibilities is helping our clients reach their skin health goals safely - every choice we make in the treatment room and recommendation of home care protocols should honor that professional goal.

Posted by Beth Kenerson of Esthetician Success Lab