What is a Chemical Peel?
The chemical peel is a common tool in the cosmetic surgeon’s bag of tricks. Chemical peels have been used for hundreds of years. There are even stories of Cleopatra using sour goat’s milk to keep her skin beautiful (the sour milk contains lactic acid, which is used as a chemical exfoliant). So how do chemical peels work, what are they good for and how often should you have them done?
Most chemical peels contain some form of an acid, which helps to remove the dull, superficial layers of skin cells, revealing healthier, more beautiful skin below. The most common acids used in chemical peels are Glycolic Acid, Kojic Acid, Tricyclic Acid (TCA) and Salicylic Acid. Phenol is less commonly used because of a higher risk of side effects from the chemical peel. It also requires significant downtime of 2 weeks or more.
Chemical Peels are generally divided into 3 groups, based on the depth of penetration:
- Superficial Chemical Peels improve the texture of the skin. This is basically a good exfoliation. There is no down time from a superficial peel and people often request it to help them look their best just before a big event. Superficial peels will not improve sun damage or wrinkles.
- Medium Depth Chemical Peels will generally cause a visible flaking of the skin. You can get improvement in fine lines and some pigment issues. You can get significant improvement with repeated treatments; usually the chemical peel is repeated every 3 to 6 months. Medium peels are good for treating all skin colors.
- Deep Chemical Peels will produce significant redness and peeling. Most patients choose to take 2 weeks or more off from work and social events after a deep chemical peel. Deep chemical peels can give you significant results with a single treatment, often similar to results that you can get with laser resurfacing. Use caution, however, as a deep chemical peel can be more unpredictable than a laser and can have more side effects, including heart, liver or kidney problems. Also deep chemical peels cannot be used in patients with darker skin tones, as they can lead to hyperpigmentation.
Different chemicals can be used to optimize the results of your chemical peel:
- Glycolic Acid improves sun damage and brightens skin.
- TCA can be used to shrink pores, improve scars and stretch marks, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.
- Salicylic Acid helps treat acne breakouts.
- Phenol is generally a deeper peel; it can improve significant sun damage and deeper lines and scars.
- Lactic Acid is a good peel for sensitive skin.
- Combination Chemical Peels are frequently used to take advantage of the benefits of multiple different chemicals.
Chemical Peels are a great procedure to keep your skin looking its best. Most patients benefit from repeating chemical peels or laser treatments every 3 to 6 months. This not only maintains your results, but can also improve upon the results of each individual treatment. A good skincare regimen is important between chemical peels and should always include a sunscreen. Sun exposure after a peel can cause further damage and hinder the results of your procedure.