Chemical Peels 101: Everything You Need to Know
Ever wonder how something that sounds so harsh can be so rejuvenating for your skin? Read on for everything you need to know about chemical peels!
What is a chemical peel?
It’s a professional procedure that uses a chemical solution—such as alpha hydroxy acid or trichloroacetic acid—to resurface the skin by removing the top, damaged layers. More specifically, the chemical solution “peels” away the top dead layers of skin so that it regenerates and reveals a smoother, healthier, younger-looking complexion.
Also known as chemexfoliation or derma peeling, a chemical peel can be performed by itself or with other skincare procedures.
What are some common misconceptions about chemical peels?
With the abundance of fear-provoking terms to describe the process, such as “injured skin” (or even “chemical” or “peel” for that matter!), it’s easy to brush off chemical peels as just another over-the-top beauty procedure for those who will go to any lengths to restore their youth.
However, chemical peels are extremely common and actually favored by estheticians and dermatologists for their effectiveness and ease of use. Peels are even gentle enough for those with sensitive skin, as it’s much milder than mechanical exfoliators.
Think of peels as skin rejuvenation. As we age, our cell renewal rate decreases significantly, and peeling is the best way to speed up your natural cell turnover to uncover the fresh, healthy skin underneath the layers of dead surface skin cells.
Another common myth is that you will be peeling for weeks. You don’t necessarily have to visibly peel to reap the amazing benefits. The action occurs at the cellular level—the visible peeling is just a side effect of the dead skin being removed.
There is also some confusion about how effectively peels can heal super-deep scars. Chemical peels can eliminate superficial scars and pigmentation, reduce the size of pores and even out the tone and texture of your skin. For extremely deep scars, a dermatologist may conduct a much deeper peel or laser in order to resurface your skin at the dermal layer. It is always best have your esthetician analyze your scars and assess what to expect in terms of results.
The main difference between a dermatologist’s peels and those from an esthetician is the pH balance of the chemical solutions. The lower the pH, the more acidic, and the deeper they penetrate into the dermal layers of the skin. Peels below a pH of 3 are significantly more painful with much more downtime.
How long do chemical peels take?
Chemical peels take about 20-25 minutes, which is why it’s oftentimes called “the lunchtime facial.”
What exactly is the procedure like?
While the procedure varies from professional to professional, the following is a general outline of what occurs:
- Your face is thoroughly cleansed with a pre-peel cleanser to lower the pH of your skin, allowing for deeper penetration.
- The chemical solution is applied either by a cotton pad or brush.
- Some peels self neutralize and are left on the skin, while others must be neutralized and then wiped off after a prescribed period of time.
- Moisturizers, serums and/or sun protection are applied.
What are the benefits of chemical peels?
There’s quite a few! People enjoy chemical peels for the following benefits:
- A minimally invasive way to visibly improve the appearance of skin
- Can also be administered on neck and hands, or anywhere else on the body
- Immediate results you can see and feel
- Reduction of fine lines and wrinkles
- Reduction of discoloration and redness (including freckles, age & liver spots)
- Increased collagen production
- Reduction of acne scarring and blemishes
- Sun damage reversal
- Improved skin texture
- Smooths out rough skin and scaly patches
- Increases the appearance of firmness and taut skin
What are the different types of chemical peels?
Generally speaking, chemical peels are available in three potency levels. Each type of peel uses a different chemical solution. A skincare professional determines which solution to use depending on the specific needs and desired results of each individual client.
A general rule of thumb: The deeper the peel, the more significant the results but the longer the recovery time.
- Light. Removes the outermost layer of skin (the epidermis). Can be done once a week for up to six weeks.
- Medium. Removes skin cells deeper into the epidermis and can be done every 2-3 weeks.
- Deep. Removes skin cells from the epidermis and parts of the top, mid & lower layer of the dermis. These peels are administered by a dermatologist and are considered more resurfacing; you will experience greater discomfort and longer healing time.
We recommend a light- or medium-depth peel monthly to keep your skin healthy and fresh. This is the best monthly maintenance program in terms of a professional treatment. It gives you the optimal results with little to no pain and downtime.
What are the types of chemical solutions?
AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid)
AHAs are acids derived from natural sources such as sugar cane juice, milk and tomato juice. Some of the most well-known include citric acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid and malic acid, though there are countless more types of AHAs.
AHA’s offer the mildest peel, which makes them great for first-time patients or for those with highly sensitive skin. AHAs are used to treat fine wrinkles, dryness, uneven skin tone and acne. Alpha hydroxy acids are prevalently found in face cleansers and moisturizers in smaller doses.
BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)
BHAs are best known to treat acne-prone and scarred skin, as they control oil production and loosen dead skin cells. Salicylic acid, the most popular BHA, is produced by plants and penetrates deeply into pores to dissolve impurities.
Modified Jessner Peel
Pioneered by Dr. Max Jessner, a German-American dermatologist, the Jessner Peel mixes 14% salicylic acid, lactic acid and resorcinol, which is a mild antiseptic and disinfectant. This peel is more potent than AHA or BHA peels, and is a great option for advanced acne scarring, fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, freckles, sun spots and to stimulate collagen production.
TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid)
Great for both face and body and those who are looking for the highest level peel with more advanced results. TCA peels are effective for improving the look of wrinkles, brown spots, acne pitting, scarring and superficial blemishes.