tca peel vs glycolic acid peel for antiaging

I don’t go for facials often (I believe the less you do to your skin, the better), but when I do, I usually opt for a glycolic acid peel.

It smoothes out my skin’s texture, evens out its tone and makes my wrinkles look smaller. The best part? There’s no pain or downtime.

Well, maybe a bit, if you opt for a high concentration, like 70%. I’m still young so I stick to the smaller ones. Painless and effective.

Not everyone is a fan of GA, though. Some people find it too harsh and irritating for their skin type. While they’re looking for something gentler, they often turn to TCA peels. Here’s why that’s NOT a good idea:

What Are TCA Peels?

TCA stands for Trichloroacetic acid, a strong acetic acid used in medium strength chemical peels. It dries the top layers of the skin so they peel off over the next few days.

TCA peels rejuvenate the skin in several different ways:

  • Fade dark spots, acne marks, sun spots and freckles
  • Reduce fine lines and wrinkles
  • Even out the texture of your skin, making it look softer and smoother
  • Unclog your pores
  • Treat sun damage

Related: Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: Which One Is The Best Alternative To Hydroquinone?

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What Can You Expect From A TCA Peel?

TCA peels are medium depth peels. They range from 8% to 30% strength. Not as high as other acids (glycolic acid peels can range from 20% to 70%!), but there’s a good reason for that. TCA is more powerful. Any higher and they’ll destroy your skin.

Here’s what you can expect before, during and after a TCA peel:

Before The TCA Peel:

  • Stop using all exfoliants and retinoids for at least two weeks: The peel will exfoliate your skin, so no need to do it beforehand.
  • Do a patch test 48 hours before the peel: You don’t want to discover you’re allergic to TCA after you’ve slathered it all over your face.
  • Get some time off: Your skin will peel heavily in the next few days. You don’t want anyone to see you like that! Take at least a week off work. 10 days is even better.

During The TCA Peel:

  • Your skin will be cleansed: It enhances the penetration of the peel. Only then, it can be applied.
  • Your skin will sting: Think of someone rubbing sandpaper all over your skin. It’s not painful enough to require anaesthetic, but it’s VERY uncomfortable.
  • You skin may “frost”: If you’re getting a high strength TCA peel, some areas of your face can temporarily become white.
  • The peel is neutralized: After 5 minutes, a solution of baking soda and water is applied all over your face to stop the peel from working (P.S. The neutralizing solution may sting more than the peel itself!).
  •  Post-peel care: Your skin is gently washed with water, soothed with an emollient cream and protected with sunscreen.

After A TCA Peel:

  • Downtime: Your skin will be red and swollen afterwards and will peel badly for the next 3-4 days. It may even look wrinkly and glossy for a while.
  • Antibiotic: Apply an antibiotic cream regularly to protect your skin and prevent infection. Your skin is stripped bare so it needs help against bacteria.
  • Apply sunscreen: You have to be super religious with this. Your skin is super sensitive and can’t stand contact with the sun now.
  • Longlasting results: They last for about 6 months!

How Do TCA Peels Compare To Glycolic Acid Peels?

I go for a glycolic acid peel every 3 or 4 months, but I’ve never tried a TCA peel before.

Why? I don’t believe in suffering more when you can get the same results with less drama.

I’ve found two studies comparing TCA peels with glycolic acid peels. The first one compared 15% TCA peel with a 35% GA peel. The second 35% TCA with 70% GA. The results were the same:

  • Same benefits: The smaller concentrations of TCA worked just as well as the higher concentrations of GA.
  • Downtime: The downtime is way worse with TCA. I never peel after a GA peel, but after TCA, heavy peeling is inevitable.
  • Irritation: Side effects, such as redness and irritations, were much more severe with TCA.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll stick to glycolic acid peels for now.

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid In Skincare: What It Is, What It Does, And How To Use It

The Bottom Line

TCA peels are an effective way to rejuvenate the skin, fade dark spots and reduce wrinkles. But, even small concentrations are pretty harsh, involving severe peeling, stinging and up to 10 days of downtime. Why suffer like that when you can get the same results with a much gentler glycolic acid peel?