What Is the Difference Between Glycolic Acid Peels & TCA Peels?

Updated April 17, 2017

A chemical peel is an anti-ageing cosmetic procedure intended to yield more youthful, radiant skin. Chemical peels differ in solution and results, however, and there are differences between a standard glycolic acid peel and a TCA peel.

Chemical Solution

A TCA peel's active chemical ingredient is a trichloroacetic acid, a strong acetic acid. Glycolic acid is one type of alpha hydroxy acid (the other type being lactic acid), a simple fruit acid found in nature or synthesised.


A glycolic acid peel is considered a "light" chemical peel, hence glycolic acid's safe and widespread use in many over-the-counter (OTC) skincare products. A TCA peel is a deeper peel in the spectrum of chemical peels, it is considered a "medium" peel with more dramatic results than a glycolic peel.


A glycolic acid peel improves the look and feel of the superficial skin layer ( the outermost layer) and used regularly to gradually reduce fine lines and skin discolouration. A TCA peel works deeper to repair visible sun damage and fine wrinkles.


Both peels treat mild to moderately ageing skin of all skin types, though TCA peels are preferred for olive- or dark-skinned patients.

Side Effects

The skin adjusts to glycolic acid with possible slight irritation at first, while TCA peel side effects include redness, swelling, mild discomfort and flaking skin. Deeper TCA peels might require two to three days of restricted activity after treatment, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.


Sun block is crucial after any type of chemical peel, especially after a TCA treatment. The skin might not tan evenly after a peel, and the pores might be visibly larger.

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About the Author

Isobel Washington has been a freelance journalist since 2007. Washington's work first surfaced in Europe, where she served as a restaurant critic and journalist for "LifeStyles" magazine. Her love of travel and culture inspired her first novel, which is currently underway. Washington has a 10-year career in marketing communication and holds a Bachelor of Science degree.