Exfoliants: The facts about glycolic peels




Exfoliation has long been known as the one skin care treatment that will give you immediate results. The use of exfoliants can be traced back to ancient Egypt when abrasive masks, minerals and alabaster particles were used as physical exfoliants. Today, there is still debate around what method of exfoliation is best. While most people already accept exfoliation as an essential part of their skin care regimen, how and why different types of exfoliants work is not common knowledge.  Finding an exfoliant that is effective, harmless and beneficial requires an understanding of the different methods of exfoliants and how they work. In this article we will examine the benefits and risks of the two dominant methods of exfoliation.


Table of contents:

  • Why exfoliate?
  • Methods of exfoliation.
  • Chemical exfoliation designed for sensitive skin: Glycolic peels
  • How it works.
  • Riversol’s Exfoliating Glycolic Peel
  • References

  • Why exfoliate?

    glycolic peeling

    The first step to understanding the advantages to exfoliating, is to understand the skin’s regenerative process. The skin is constantly renewing itself on a 30-day cycle. Old cells can accumulate on the surface contributing to blemishes, scaling and a flat, dull appearance.  Exfoliation helps to shed these old layers, which also prepares your skin for the penetration of additional skin care products.

    While some methods of exfoliation have well documented anti-aging benefits (see below), exfoliation is an important step for people with all different types of skin:

    For dry skin:

    The layer of dead, dry skin cells on the surface of your face may actually be blocking your moisturizer from penetrating for optimal hydrating results. As a result, dry skin types can benefit from finding the right exfoliant to aid in bringing moisture back.

    For oily, acne prone skin:

    Excess sebum production mixed with dead skin cell buildup can lead to unwanted pimples and breakouts. Mild exfoliants help to break up the debris, oil, and dead skin buildup that causes breakouts.

    Methods of exfoliation.

    There are two established methods of exfoliation:

    1) Physical Exfoliation – Physical exfoliation uses hard particles, brushes, and/or towels to mechanically rub and scratch the the skin. This method is problematic for people with sensitive skin. The harsh, excessive rubbing required to effectively use a physical exfoliant can aggravate your skin and strip it of its natural barrier leading to severe irritation, inflammation, dryness and even scarring.

    2) Chemical Exfoliation - This method uses chemicals and enzymes that break up and remove the dead cells on the surface. Studies show that chemical exfoliation delivers superior anti-aging results to mechanical exfoliation due to their beneficial properties and mechanism of action. By minimizing the stimulation of the skin, chemical exfoliants also minimize inflammation. As a result, this method is often recommended for people with sensitive skin. There are a variety of chemicals and concentrations that are used for exfoliation. For sensitive skin, low concentrations of ingredients like Hydroxy acids are best.

    Chemical exfoliation designed for sensitive skin: Glycolic peels

    Glycolic peels use an Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), naturally derived from the sugarcane plant, as the exfoliating ingredient.  When used in the right formulation AHA has a range of benefits unparalleled in the cosmetic world.  

    glycolic peel: sugar cane

    Glycolic peels are scientifically proven to show improvement in fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone, texture, rebuilding of collagen, removal of blackheads, and a temporary reduction in excessive oil production.

    When used in low concentrations (under 5%) these products gently remove the dead cells from the surface and reveal fresh healthy skin below.  As always, people with sensitive skin should start out slowly with a small amount to assess any irritation.

    How it works?

    AHA works in two ways

    glycolic acid

    1) This molecule absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. When applied to the skin, these hydrated AHAs act to increase the water content of the skin and thus moisturize the outer layer resulting in softer and more flexible skin.

    2) The second method by which AHAs act is by removing dead surface skin cells and accelerating new cell growth within the deeper layer of the skin. This exfoliating action of AHAs occurs as a result of their ability to break the bonds between dead skin cells that form at the surface of the skin. Skin normally has a dead layer of cells at its surface, and AHAs can speed up the normal process of skin cell regeneration and sloughing.

    exfoliating glycolic peel

    *While this article was written as an unbiased educational resource, this section highlights Riversol products and their benefits for people with sensitive skin.

    Riversol’s Exfoliating Glycolic Peel:

    Years of Dermatological practice and scientific research lead Dr. Rivers to develop a proprietary chemical exfoliant that would work specifically for people with sensitive skin. Riversol’s Exfoliating Glycolic Peel has been developed with a non-gritty formulation that does not resemble typical, physical or chemical exfoliators. This exfoliant has the ability to buff away dead cells with no irritation and is ideal for people with rosacea and sensitive skin.

    With a 4% AHA (glycolic acid) concentration and the addition of Vitamin C, E and beta-thujaplicin this peel retains many of the benefits that other chemical peels on the market offer without causing irritation or damage in the process.

     Learn more about the exfoliating peel: HERE

    Author: Dr. James Macdonald, MD


    1) B.A Green, E.J Van Scott, Clinical and cosmeceutical uses of hydroxyacids, Clinics in Dermatology (2009) 27, 495-501

    2) LS Moy, H Murad, R Moy, Glycolic Acid Peels for the Treatment of Wrinkles and Photoaging, The Journal of dermatologic suregery and oncology (1993) 04, 243-6

    3) W Bergfeld, R Tung, A Vidimos, L Vellanki, B Rerni, U Stanton-Hicks, Improving the cosmetic appearance of photoaged skin with glycolic acid. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (1997) 36, 1011-1013