Chemical peels

Chemical peels are a type of cosmetic treatment that are designed to improve the appearance of your skin by reducing the look of age spots, evening out skin tone, and so on and so forth. The use of chemical peels actually dates way back to the Ancient Egyptians. While they didn’t have the term ‘chemical peel’ back then, they did bathe in milk and rub grape skins on their skin. This milk was filled with lactic acid, and the grape skins were filled with tartaric acid which each have the same effect as the chemical peels today. Today, scientists have discovered many other forms of acid that can each have a beneficial effect on our skin.

What exactly is a chemical peel?

The process of a chemical peel is pretty simple – a chemical solution is applied to the surface of the skin to carefully remove the outer layers. Such a process helps to remove dead skin cells and stimulate the production of new ones, with the end result being healthier and more radiant looking skin. The type of chemical used, the strength of the product, and the length of time it is left on the skin can affect the outcome of a chemical peel.

There are three different types of chemical peel, each of which is classified based on how deep they work within the skin:

  • Superficial chemical peels. They work on the epidermal layers of the skin, removing only the outer layer
  • Medium depth peels. They work to remove both epidermal and upper dermal layers of the skin
  • Deep peels. They extend deeper and into the lower dermal layers of the skin

Generally speaking, the deeper the peel, the more improvement that you will see in the skin. Deeper peels are often used for targeting more specific skin conditions such as fine lines and wrinkles or acne. They are said to wipe away deeper layers of skin, promoting the production of new collagen. This will, in turn, affect the outer layers of skin by making them smoother and softer than before treatment.

What should you expect during a chemical peel?

What you should expect when getting a chemical peel largely depends on which type of peel you are getting. Let’s break it down:

Superficial peels

Superficial peels only remove the top layer of skin. In return, the chemical only needs to be left on the skin for a few minutes. Most superficial peels contain some type of Hydroxy Acid as their main chemical. The treatment is not very painful, but your skin may feel tight for a few hours following a session. Side effects are rare, but may include hyper pigmentation, infection, or a break out in cold sores. Regular treatment is needed to maintain the effects of a superficial peel.

Medium Peels

Medium peels remove cells from the top and middle layers of the skin. They are also only left on for a few minutes, but often come along with a slight burning sensation. The most common chemical used in this treatment is Trichloroacetic Acid.

In the days following treatment, skin may appear redder or browner than usual and this effect can last up to 6 weeks. Medium peels can also lead to skin peeling, which can take up to 3-6 weeks to completely heal. Hyper-pigmentation and scarring are both unlikely following a medium peel, but possible. Treatment is needed every 6-12 months for the maintenance of effects.

Deep peels

Deep peels affect the deepest layers of the skin and therefore are often more painful than other peels. They usually contain phenol as their main chemical. A freezing sensation may be felt when the peel is applied and a local anaesthetic or sedative may be given prior to treatment to ease the pain. Such peels are often left on for up to 30 minutes and peeling and redness are to be expected. Deep peels can also lead to discomfort and swelling that can last up to two weeks following treatment. The chemicals used within a deep peel can have potentially dangerous effects on your heart and kidneys, so most practitioners will monitor your heart and blood pressure during treatment. It can also cause lightening of the skin, so is not recommended for darker skin types. While deep peels are the most dangerous and painful of all peel types, they are also the most successful requiring only one treatment for lasting effects.

Because a deep peel is such a drastic procedure, you must have someone to drive you home post-treatment. You may feel ill for several days and may experience pain when chewing food. Professionals may recommend eating only soft and liquid food at this time to avoid the disruption of your skin. Itchiness, redness, and swelling are all common side effects and it may take a few weeks before your face will be presentable to the public. The most common side effects of a deep peel are permanent hyper-pigmentation and scarring.

Who can perform a chemical peel?

Again, this depends on the strength of peel you are going for. Superficial peels can be performed by a beauty therapist, but deeper peels require more expertise from a plastic surgeon or dermatologist.

What should you do after a chemical peel?

Following a chemical peel it is extremely important that you follow the advice of your physician to avoid scarring or infection. Such advice may vary depending on peel type;

Superficial peels:

  • Use a gentle soap free cleanser and moisturize twice daily
  • Do not pick away dead or peeling skin – this can lead to scarring
  • Avoid direct sunlight for 6 weeks following treatment to avoid the risk of hyper-pigmentation
  • Contact your physician immediately if anything looks or feels wrong

Medium and deep peels

  • Use mild painkillers if recommended
  • Cleanse your skin with mineral oil
  • Apply antibiotic ointment as supplied by your practitioner daily
  • Use antihistamines to ease any itchiness
  • Sleep on your back to reduce swelling
  • Check in regularly with your practitioner to ensure that you are recovering properly
  • Avoid strenuous activity in the weeks following treatment
  • Do not pick at or scratch off any dead skin
  • Contact your physician immediately if anything looks or feels wrong.

Who should avoid chemical peels?

Chemical peels are not recommended if you have any previous history with scarring conditions, if you have an abnormal skin pigment, if you have any facial warts or infections, or if you are of dark or freckled skin. Those who have used any acne treatments containing isotretinoin within the last year may also be poor candidates for chemical peels. If you have any conditions with your heart, kidneys, or liver, always speak to your doctor before going for treatment.

Are chemical peels successful?

Yes, chemical peels are successful, but can also be very dangerous. Always be sure to speak to your physician before seeking out chemical peel treatments and be sure that you are well aware of all associated risks before continuing. Superficial chemical peels are, in most cases, relatively harmless, but if not done with care medium and deep peels can do more damage than good.