Are Chemical Peels So Scary?

Lately, we have had so much interest, so many questions, and so many reservations about the "chemical peel" service(s)! (Enough that I knew I needed to give out some more info, for sure!) At our spa, our Licensed Estheticians (LEs) are highly trained to make the best recommendations about the chemical formula best suited for you as an individual. However, I know if you live too far away to visit us, or you're researching where to go or what services to schedule, I hope that this helps you feel empowered and informed going into any chemical peel appointment!

First and most important tid bit........NO DIY when it comes to chemicals on your skin! Be certain that you are seeing a LE, Dermatologist, or Plastic Surgeon for this type of treatment! That does not always mean that you will have downtime involved, like taking days off of work; but there are a lot of considerations and too many moving pieces to choose a chemical peel and wing it at home!

Let's now look at the TYPES of exfoliation and a general idea of how they affect the skin. Exfoliation can occur with the following approaches:

  • Physical- a scrub or gommage that creates immediate exfoliation of the superficial layers
  • Mechanical- using a machine or device to assist in exfoliation, such as a microdermabrasion or even a mechanical cleansing/rotary brush. Regardless of the brand, these all exfoliate the skin!
  • Chemical- using an ACIDIC ingredient to dissolve the "glue" that holds onto the dead skin, causing it to then shed off; or a VITAMIN A that tells the skin to let go faster.

Today we will only be discussing chemical peels using acids and how each acid works (and better yet, who it is for and what to expect!)

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are typically derived from food sources such as sugar, milk, or fruits. It is common to find these in OTC products, but at a lower percentage (which means it will not be TOO active in most skin types) AHAs can act as a humectant, where they actually help pull more water into the epidermis (top layers)! They work on the entire surface of the skin, so they are usually used for age management, generalized all over hyperpigmentation (brown spots/freckles), and normal to dry or dehydrated skin types. If applied in a higher percentage, with a lower pH (between 2.5-3.5), these acids will give a deeper exfoliation. As the client, you would experience a dry or tight feeling 24-48 hours post peel. Days 3-5 typically bring visible sloughing, where you might see the dead skin "peeling" all over, or only in certain areas of the face. This peeling can last ultimately through days 10-14 post peel, and will only look like you are recovering from a sunburn! (Your makeup may grab a little, FYI!) While many of the AHAs are my personal favorite to use, I would caution when using Glycolic Acid. It has the smallest molecular size, meaning it can penetrate much deeper. This will make it your BFF or your worst enemy! (Your LE should be able to advise you on what and how to use this, though, making sure it stays your BFF!)

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHAs), also known as, Salicylic Acid. This ingredient is derived from Willowbark, which is an aspirin source. (so stop crushing up the aspirin to smear on that pimple! Buy the product, which is actually formulated for your skin!!) Because of this, BHAs are not recommended for women who are pregnant. (This might be a bit antiquated, but better safe than sorry with precious cargo!) BHA also works on the premise of loosening the glue holding those dead cells on like cement, BUT, instead of working over the entire general surface, it is working down inside of the pore. That is why we see so many acne products containing Salicylic Acid. OTC can only be found as high as 2% per the FDA, but a pro chemical peel will contain a higher percentage. BHAs are also attracted to oil and can scavenge it up (so expect it to make you drier and create more of a rougher texture/flaking effect. Dry skin beware, unless this is cocktailed with another acid!)

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) is a favorite among professionals for age management, but especially for pigmentation! This ingredient can be a wonder worker for acne clients looking to get rid of their red and brown spots (Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation), but should be used in a lower concentration, so that their standard acne home care products can still be used, without having to take a few day break! When used in a small amount (percentage), it can drastically reduce deep, cystic pimples and get rid of the flat dark spots at the same time! When used in higher concentrations, TCA can create a deep rejuvenation and bring sun damaged brown spots to the skin's surface, causing it to just fall off after several days! TCA definitely causes the skin to flake, either mildly (as in, it feels and looks a little dry, but nothing more) to an excessive flaking that occurs over several days, affecting several layers of the epidermis. TCA (important to note) cannot be washed off the skin!!! This is why knowing the skin, the TCA products, and giving proper at home follow up is critical to your results. (Also please note that almost all of the YouTube videos are medium to deep chemical peels)

Lactic, Mandelic, Kojic, TCA, and Resorcinol are a few of my favorite, results oriented acids to use in the treatment room on clients. (although these are all from different acid families!) We can work with certain blends of these acids, working synergistically to give beautiful results! But you can't do that with just anything!)

A few pointers to take note of pre and post peel for best results:

  • Stop using any topical Prescriptions 7-14 days prior to a peel.
  • Accutane users must be off of this prescription for 6-12 months prior to a peel.
  • USE. SPF. EVERY. DAY.  (not only will you regret it if you don't, but why would you pay money for a peel, then ruin it with sun exposure?)
  • DO NOT pick or pull at any of the dead skin as you see it rolling, peeling, or flaking off. Instead, keep your skin well moisturized, possibly even using a Vaseline over your moisturizer (ask your provider!)
  • IF you do NOT see visible skin coming off around day 3, does that mean it did not work? NO! It does not! Remember, skin cells are microscopic! It is not only possible, but probable, that if you do not see dead skin coming off, that chemical peel still did its job!

I think that just about covers everything! Whew! For those of you who read this to the end, thanks for toughing it out with me! (This is just the tip of the iceberg in peel information, too!) If you have any additional questions, feel free to email me or one of my amazing LEs, or schedule a consultation! We look forward to hearing from you, and as always, have a beautiful day! xoxo