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What agents are used in chemical peels to treat acne?

Dr. Doris Day, MD
Dermatology
Peeling agents include alpha-hydroxy acids (glycolic acid), salicylic acid, and trichloroacetic acid. Salicylic acid may have anti-inflammatory effects. Salicylic acid is fat soluble and may penetrate into the sebum heavy follicles more easily than the water-soluble alpha-hydroxy acids. This makes salicylic acid an especially useful agent in the treatment of acne. There is also usually more active peeling after a salicylic acid treatment than with glycolic acid. Trichloroacetic acid can be used in strengths from 5% to approximately 20% to achieve a superficial peel. There is generally more active peeling that occurs after a trichloroacetic acid peel, and this treatment generally should be done by a qualified dermatologist because the strength of the peel varies depending on how it is applied and there is some risk of scarring associated with deeper penetration of the acid.

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