WHAT ARE CHEMICAL PEELS?
Administered by skincare professionals, chemical peels work by exfoliating the skin’s surface to reduce the appearance of blemishes, smooth skin texture, improve radiance, and restore skin health. They are most effective at enhancing cell turnover and improving the appearance on the surface of the skin.
Chemical peels come in many different strengths and acidic formulations ranging from superficial to higher penetrating peels. Some common acids in chemical peels are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), and trichloroacetic acid (TCA). AHAs are often used to treat signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, and uneven texture. BHAs are often used to treat problematic skin concerns such as blemishes, large pores and uneven texture. TCA is often used to treat more advanced visible signs of aging and discoloration caused by sun damage, acne, or hormones.
WHO ARE CHEMICAL PEELS FOR?
The depth and type of chemical peel used by a skincare professional depends on the condition of the skin, the skin’s Fitzpatrick type (skin color and likelihood to burn), and the skincare habits of the client. In general, the higher the Fitzpatrick skin type, the more caution should be exercised to avoid triggering a pigment response. For extremely sensitive skin and skin experiencing barrier dysfunction (eczema, psoriasis, etc), chemical peels are generally not recommended.
HOW DO CHEMICAL PEELS WORK?
Chemical peels improve the texture and appearance of the skin by sloughing off the outer layers of the skin. They are effective facial treatments for improving blemishes, fine lines, wrinkles, and skin tone. During the treatment, a pre-determined quantity of the peel solution is applied to the skin for a specified amount of time. This is dependent on the type of chemical peel used, the concentration of the solution, skin type, and skin’s reactivity to the treatment. This solution works by reacting with the upper layer of the skin to efficiently dissolve the bonds that bind surface cells to the skin, ultimately revealing smoother, healthier skin underneath. While some peels are self-neutralizing, most formulas need to be neutralized with a buffering solution or water upon completion of the treatment. The goal is to create a controlled, safe injury to the skin, thereby prompting skin to naturally repair itself and reveal newer, brighter skin.
The action of a professional chemical peel far outweighs the effect of an exfoliating scrub or brush. Best of all, chemical peels are appropriate for nearly everyone. It is a matter of knowing which chemical is best for your skin type and concerns.
Chemical acids are further broken down by the pH of the formulation (the lower the pH, the stronger the acidity) and the size of the molecule itself. For example, a 20% concentration of glycolic acid at a pH of 3 may be more efficacious than the same formulation of lactic acid because the glycolic molecule is smaller and better able to penetrate the skin.
WHAT WILL I EXPERIENCE DURING A CHEMICAL PEEL?
Even a superficial chemical peel may produce a tingling sensation on the skin. However, this mild discomfort will typically subside once the peel solution has been neutralized. Deeper peels can feel quite active and may require the application of a numbing cream beforehand. In general, skin accustomed to the use of acids will tolerate stronger formulations.
A superficial peel can produce some redness, similar to a mild sunburn, which may last 3 to 5 days. The more intense medium and deep peels will result in noticeable redness, swelling, blistering (in the case of deep peels), and/or peeling for 7 to 14 days. Deep chemical peels may also require bandages to be applied for a few days following treatment, along with prescribed painkillers to manage the discomfort.
Immediately after a chemical peel, skin becomes more photosensitive. It is absolutely necessary that a broad spectrum sunscreen is applied daily post treatment, and that sun exposure is avoided or kept to a minimum.
WHEN SHOULD I GET A CHEMICAL PEEL?
When and how frequently a chemical peel is administered will vary according to the depth and concentration of the peel. Superficial peels can become part of an ongoing monthly skin maintenance program. Medium depth peels are generally done in a series of 3-6, while a deep peel may only be done once or twice a year. Any peel series should be done under the guidance of an experienced medical aesthetician or dermatologist.
Due to the exfoliating nature of chemical peels, skin may become more susceptible to damage from environmental aggressors immediately post treatment. It is essential that a broad spectrum sunscreen is applied daily and diligently. Your skincare professional might also recommend an at-home skincare regimen to help maintain the results of your chemical peel.
During times of increased UV exposure or activity, deep chemical peels or a series of medium depth peels should be avoided, as they will yield high sun-sensitivity in skin. Superficial chemical peels or lighter exfoliating agents are preferred.