Glycolic Acid or PHA - which chemical peel is right for you?

Posted July 14, 2023 by Michelle Fox

Chemical peels offer effective deep exfoliation, but now that we have so many options, how's a girl to know which one to choose? Two popular options are glycolic acid (AHA) and polyhydroxy acid (PHA). While both improve the overall appearance of the skin, they function differently and offer unique benefits. In this blog, we will explore the similarities and differences between these two skincare products, allowing you to make an informed decision that suits your needs. 

For more information on the benefits of PHA, check out my previous post, What is PHA?

What's the difference between a Facial Peel & PHA?

Glycolic Acid vs. PHA

1st. up - Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from sugarcane. It is commonly used in facial peels to dissolve dead skin cells in order to promote cell turnover, stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, and support skin's moisture balance, all of which contribute to the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. Continuous use of glycolic acid can actually accelerate skin healing and reduce signs of environmental damage. In addition to these benefits, glycolic acid can also improve skin issues like blackheads, hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, psoriasis, keratosis pilaris, and hyperkeratosis.

You can learn more about Glycolic Acid in Night 1 of my Skin Cycling routine that is featured in this blog: My Skin Cycling Routine.

How to apply:

Important points to remember:

Your skin will be extra-sensitive to sun exposure after a glycolic acid treatment, so be sure to use sun protection and avoid sun exposure if possible! 

Always read instructions on the packaging and follow them carefully.

And now... PHA

Polyhydroxy acids, or PHAs, are a milder form of hydroxy acids that offer gentle exfoliation and skin renewal benefits. Unlike glycolic acid, PHAs are typically used in skincare products as a serum that is left on your skin. They have larger molecules that rest on the surface layers of your skin and do not penetrate as deeply as glycolic acid. Therefore, people who are sensitive to glycolic acid facial peels may be interested in trying PHA!

Benefits of PHA:

Apply the PHA-based serum or cream to clean, dry skin.

Let's compare!

Key Similarities:

They are both chemical exfoliants.

Glycolic acid peels and polyhydroxy acid serums aim to improve skin texture and tone, reduce hyperpigmentation, brighten skin, and lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Thankfully, they are both available for in-home use.

Main Differences

Glycolic acid peels are applied as a facial treatment for a number of minutes and then carefully removed, while PHAs are ingredients in serums that remain on the skin - very quick!

While glycolic acid peels offer a more intense exfoliation into the deeper layers of skin,  PHAs provide a gentler exfoliation on the surface layer of skin. 

Traditional facial peels (glycolic acid) are thought to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin whereas PHA has not shown this benefit.

Glycolic acid facial peels are slightly more expensive than PHA serums, however they last longer, so in the long run, they may be closer in cost than one thinks!

Wrap Up

When it comes to choosing between a glycolic acid facial peel and a polyhydroxy acid supplement, it's important to consider your skin type, concerns, and personal preferences. Glycolic acid peels are suitable for those seeking a more intense exfoliation, while PHAs are an excellent option for individuals with sensitive skin or those who prefer a milder approach. Remember to consult with a skincare professional to determine the best course of action for your unique needs. With the right choice, you can embrace radiant, youthful-looking skin for years to come.

Products used during demonstration

TimeWise Repair Revealing Radiance Facial Peel

Clinical Solutions PHA + AHA Resurfacer

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