How to Treat Discoloration & Brown Spots With Glycolic Acid

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A woman with age spots on her hands. (Image: Don Bayley/iStock/Getty Images)

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid and is used to stimulate new collagen growth. It also works to exfoliate and shed dead skin cells by scrubbing the top layer of the skin. Glycolic acid can also help reduce oil on the surface of the skin. Discolored or brown spots on the skin, which can occur due to aging or sun exposure, can sometimes be covered with cosmetics. However, it is possible to treat these spots using the exfoliating and renewing properties found in glycolic acid products.

Step 1

Use a daily facial cleanser containing glycolic acid. Over-the-counter products that contain glycolic acid will have 3 to 10 percent of the ingredient. Start with a lower concentration until you are sure that your skin will not be too sensitive to the glycolic acid.

Step 2

Apply a glycolic acid spot treatment with your a cotton swab. Apply the spot treatment every evening before bed, directly onto the discolored or brown spots.

Step 3

Moisturize with a glycolic acid-based cream or lotion. Glycolic acid can irritate and dry out the skin, and using it combined with moisturizing ingredients can help reduce the irritation while still treating discoloration.

Step 4

Talk with your dermatologist about getting a glycolic acid peel for brown spots or discoloration. These medical-strength peels are 20 to 30 percent glycolic acid and are more effective for removing skin discoloration.

Things You'll Need

  • Facial cleanser containing glycolic acid

  • Glycolic acid spot treatment

Tip

Use sunscreen daily when using any glycolic acid products. Glycolic acid increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. This will also help prevent new discoloration and brown spots from appearing.

If you experience mild itching, rashes or watery, red eyes after using the glycolic acid, you may be allergic to the product.

Warning

Glycolic acid can interfere with other topical medications, so discuss your situation with your doctor before use.

Do not use any other kind of scrub or exfoliating product along with glycolic acid products. Glycolic acid is already an exfoliating agent.

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