What are chemical peels and how do they work

What do chemical peels do?

Chemical peels are an ancient form of skincare that smooths the skin and improves its color and texture. They are able to treat a number of skin imperfections including lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, sun damage, and even acne scars.

What are chemical peels?

Chemical peels involve having a doctor apply an acid solution to the skin, which then works to remove the most superficial layer (or layers, depending on the strength of the peeling solution) of the skin. The peeling solution causes the skin to crust and peel, revealing the younger, healthier skin beneath.

Chemical peels for acne scars

The process of exfoliation and cell turnover triggered by the chemical peel solution can help reduce or eliminate the appearance of blemishes and scars that have been caused by acne.

Material

There are a number of different materials that can be used for an effective chemical peel.

  1. Glycolic acid – often used in over-the-counter “cosmeceuticals,” this alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is used for its exfoliating properties. It is great for promoting brighter, fresher skin and improving the appearance of scarring, discoloration, and signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles.
  2. Salicylic Acid – a type of phenolic acid and beta hydroxyl acid (BHA), this is a go-to ingredient for skincare products that target acne. In a chemical peel, it is great for treating acne, large pores, blackheads, and whiteheads.
  3. Lactic Acid – best for patients with sensitive, this gentle ingredient is an alpha hydroxyl acid that helps to prevent premature aging and treat sun damaged skin. It also helps treat acne and correct hyperpigmentation.
  4. Trichloroacetic acid – an acetic acid that helps reduce the appearance of dark spots and age spots, improve melasma, and help reduce fine lines, many dermatologists favor TCA for treating sun damage in the skin.
  5. Resorcinol – similar to phenol in composition, this ingredient is used in combination with others to provide all of the skin improvement characteristics that chemical peels have come to be known for.

Types of chemical peels

While the abovementioned ingredients are the most popular in medical-grade chemical peels, there are still other methods of peeling the skin that do not use such strong ingredients. Even when using the same ingredients, chemical peels are available in different types of strengths.

  • Advanced chemical peels – advanced chemical peels can range in strength from superficial to deep, and the strength determines how deeply into the skin the solution will penetrate. Superficial peels are the mildest available and are suitable for all skin types. They typically use glycolic acid or lactic acid. Medium peels are slightly harsher and produce a second-degree burn in order to get the skin to peel. Trichloroacetic acid is most common in this strength, and is helpful for removing wrinkles, blemishes, and irregular pigmentation. Deep peels are the harshest peels available and penetrate deeply into several layers of skin. They typically use phenolic acid and target deep wrinkles and severe sun spots.
  • Organic chemical peels – alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) are still at the root of organic chemical peels, except they are naturally sourced from fruit acids and enzymes. The ingredients are typically derived from fruits like lemon, pineapple, apple, grape, and grapefruit. They are safe and can be used at home.

How much do chemical peels cost?

The price of chemical peels will vary based on the strength of the peel, the ingredients used, and the location of the practice you are receiving the peel. On average, advanced chemical peels can cost anywhere from $100 to $4,000 per treatment, and some patients will require multiple treatments to get the results they desire. Compared to other facial rejuvenation techniques, chemical peels are very affordable, particularly in comparison to laser resurfacing or dermal filler injections. Organic chemical peels are much less expensive, but they typically contain a much lower concentration of the exfoliating and resurfacing ingredients.

Pros and cons of chemical peels

While chemical peels are safe and effective, there are some pros and cons that will help patients determine whether chemical peels are the right choice for them.

Pros:

  1. It can improve the appearance of wrinkles
  2. It can reduce irregular skin pigmentation
  3. It can make skin look and feel smoother and softer
  4. Non-invasive treatment with mild and temporary side effects
  5. Pain-free treatment procedure
  6. Less recovery time than surgery with light and medium peels

Cons:

  1. It won’t correct deep set wrinkles
  2. It may cause uneven skin pigmentation, especially if proper aftercare is not observed
  3. It will cause crusty and scaly skin for at least 3 to 7 days
  4. Permanent scarring and burns are possible
  5. Deep peels require a recovery time of up to 4 months
  6. Deep peels are generally not a good option for people with darker skin

5 things you should know about chemical peels

  • Are peels dangerous?

    While they are safe, chemical peels do come with some possible side effects, including scarring, infection, and a substantial change in the color of the treated skin. Chemical peels may also cause increased sensitivity to the sun, with the likelihood increasing with deeper peels. Additionally, deep peels may require anesthesia or sedation, which has it owns risks.
  • Is this a permanent solution?

    This depends on what skin issue is being treated with the chemical peel. Marks or discoloration on the skin caused by hyperpigmentation or scars from acne or eczema can see permanent results so long as the underlying issue (i.e. acne, inflammation) is under control. However, chronic problems like lines caused by aging or melasma will not be a permanent solution.
  • Are peels safe for people of color?

    Light and medium chemical peels should be fine for people of color, but deep chemical peels are slightly more complicated. Some peeling agents may be used, but must be applied with caution. Always consult with an experienced dermatologist and never administer a chemical peel on your own.
  • Is it safe for sensitive skin?

    Patients who know they have sensitive skin should consult with a board-certified dermatologist before deciding on which rejuvenating treatment is right for them. Light chemical peels should be suitable, but a dermatologist should always be consulted. There are some peels that are formulated specifically for sensitive skin, such as Filorga Light Peel.
  • Is this procedure safe while breastfeeding?

    No scientific studies have been performed to evaluate the safety of chemical peels while breastfeeding, and it is therefore recommended to wait to receive treatment until the patient is no longer breastfeeding.

Looking for other anti-aging options?

Find out how cosmetic fillers are perfect for facial rejuvenation.


Disclaimer: These articles, and any views and opinions expressed, are not endorsed by Raskel Medical. The articles are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered medical advice. Raskel Medical does not check or edit the content of these articles for medical accuracy. Contact your medical practitioner for any medical advice needed.