Chemical peels dissolve the glue between cells, shed dead skin, and remove the damaged outer layer of the epidermis. But like all the treatments in our facial rejuvenation series, there are risks involved.
In the old days, if you weren’t happy with the look of your skin, you could go to the doctor for a one-off, medical-grade, deep peel. The disadvantages of these procedures included red, inflamed skin and weeping wounds, plus staying indoors – often for months – until the skin recovered from the aggressive resurfacing treatments.
Today, deep peels are much less severe. However, single, deep-peel treatments are performed less frequently in favour of multiple lighter chemical peels, which generally cause no downtime and are usually not associated with pain or inflammation.
Chemical peels remove the outer layers of the skin, improving skin texture and uneven skin tone.
Regardless whether you want to improve acne, decrease wrinkles, or reduce age spots, facial blemishes, or the effects of sun damage, a chemical peel is likely to leave a pleasing result.
The mildest of the peel formulas are AHA chemical peels. These light peels treat fine wrinkles, areas of dryness, uneven skin color and acne and result in little downtime.
A medium-depth treatment is a Trichloracetic acid (TCA) chemical peel. A common ingredient in formulations to kill warts, TCA reduces surface wrinkles, superficial blemishes and pigmentation. It can be effective in people with darker skin as TCA doesn’t ‘bleach’ the skin. Although recovery is quick, recipients of these peels are advised to stay clear of the sun for a few months – which could really hamper summer holiday plans!
An advantages to TCA peels is that the concentration of this ingredient can be reduced or increased depending on a person’s needs.
The strongest and deepest chemical solution is Phenol. Used to treat patients with more severe concerns, such as deep wrinkles, blotchy or damaged skin caused by sun exposure, or pre-cancerous growths, healing time from this treatment can be slow – with complete healing taking up to several months.
AHA chemical peels
Numerous acids beneficial to the skin, and hero ingredients in milder chemical peels, fall within the AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) family, namely:
While some treatments provide single-acid peels, others use more than one AHA and in numerous combinations.
Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is colourless, odourless and water soluble. It has the smallest molecules of all the AHAs, allowing it to penetrate the skin more easily and deeply.
Stand-alone glycolic acid products are popular because they dissolve the glue between cells, slough away dead skin cells, and increase the production of collagen and elastin.
A daily-use skincare product with a milder concentration of glycolic acid can provide the same benefits as a peel with a higher concentration, without the risk of irritating side effects.
Lactic acid is produced naturally in our bodies during intense exercise. It is also derived from milk. Apart from removing daily grime and makeup, lactic acid stimulates the skin’s production of hyaluronic acid and is therefore extremely moisturising. It heals the top layers of the skin and promotes cellular renewal in deeper layers.
This AHA is antibacterial so targets acne, suppresses pigmentation, and promotes skin renewal and collagen production. Products with milder concentrations of lactic acid can be used every day as a gentle exfoliant and moisturising agent.
Salicylic acid, also known as beta hydroxyl acid, has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and is derived from willow bark.
Used in many combination chemical peels, salicylic acid dissolves dead skin cells, treats acne, reduces skin thickening caused by sun damage, and refines pores. It also allows for greater delivery of other AHAs into the skin.
Malic acid is found naturally in fruit, especially apples. This acid exfoliates the skin to remove dead skin cells, diminish fine lines, reduce pore size and hyperpigmentation.
Malic acid generally improves the skin’s texture and appearance, resulting in a softer, smoother complexion.
Chemical peel side effects
Most AHA chemical peels will leave your face red and tender for a few days to a week, however recovery time is usually fairly quick. TCA peels have similar side effects to AHAs, with a slightly longer recovery time.
The healing process for deeper, more concentrated peels, such as Phenol, take a whole lot longer. And side effects can be severe. It initially leaves the skin incredibly sore and oozing resulting in scabbing. After two to four weeks, this is replaced by a red sunburned look which can remain for up to three months.
Although phenol peels are the riskiest, all chemical peels come with hazards. While it doesn’t happen often, any of the above mentioned peels can cause permanent scarring, discoloration or infection.
Image courtesy of mdskincare4u.com