Chemical peels are cosmetic treatments that involve applying, you guessed it – a chemical solution to your skin to improve its appearance. They’re most commonly used on the face but can also be applied to the neck, hands and décolleté.
Depending on the strength, chemical peels penetrate various layers of your skin, causing that layer, or layers, to slough off, leaving fresh, smooth, youthful-looking skin. The higher the strength of the peel, the deeper it penetrates.
Chemical peels, also called chemical facials, treat a variety of skin conditions, including hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, acne, mild scars, and brown spots. Other benefits include smaller pores, glowing complexion, and brighter skin tone. In other words, if you want to improve your skin’s appearance, you should consider a chemical peel.
There are three main types of chemical peels: light, medium and deep. Light peels, also referred to as superficial peels, are the mildest and can be used at home. Medium and deep peels should only be performed by a licensed professional in a dermatologist’s office or medical spa.
Deeper peels require stronger solutions and can cause more significant side effects, such as scarring and hyperpigmentation, if not done correctly. Additionally, because stronger peels affect your skin at a deeper level, they usually require anywhere from one to two weeks of downtime to let your skin heal.
Superficial or lighter peels can still address aging skin issues but don’t require downtime. So, while you may experience some redness or stinging, you can go about your day without issue. However, the results won’t be as dramatic as a deeper peel, and you may need to use them more than once to maximize the results.
Types of chemical peels: Strengths and ingredients
The strength of the chemical solution will determine which skin issues the peel can address and how well it can address them.
Superficial peel typically contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), which include glycolic, salicylic acid and lactic acids. AHAs are water-soluble peels that work on the skin’s surface, while BHAs are oil-soluble and can penetrate deeper into pores to unclog them.
These mild solutions remove the outermost layer of skin (epidermis), helping reduce fine lines, uneven skin tone, and rough skin patches. Because they are mild and don’t require any downtime they are sometimes called “lunchtime peels.” You may experience some redness or stinging, but those symptoms usually subside soon after, enabling you to head back to the office or home or continue running errands. Additionally, their mild solution makes them great peels to perform at home. However, you may need to apply them once a month or in a series to get your desired results.
Medium-strength peels penetrate the outer layer and the upper part of the middle layer of your skin (dermis). They are best used to address moderate skin discoloration, age spots, acne scarring, fine lines and moderate wrinkles. Some medium-strength peels are also used to treat pre-cancerous skin growth. High-percentage glycolic acid, Jessner and trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels fall under this category. Because they reach the dermis skin layer, you will likely need to schedule some downtime after a medium peel. You may also need additional peels for the best results.
Deep peels, as mentioned above, should only be administered by a dermatologist or trained professional because of the risks involved. This strong peel penetrates even deeper than a medium-strength peel to the lower middle layer of your skin. These peels are intense! Expect about two weeks of downtime. But the results can be dramatic. Some practitioners offer a local anesthetic and sedative to manage any discomfort. And you only need one treatment. The effects of a deep chemical peel can last up to 10 years.
How to do a chemical peel at home
Ready for beautiful skin? There are many chemical peels that are safe to use at home. However, it is still important to proceed with caution and follow the instructions. First, you should stop using any retinoid product, such as Retin-A, a week before doing the chemical peel.
But before you do the real peel, you should do a patch test. First, apply the solution to your skin and wait about 48 hours to see if there are any adverse effects, such as redness, scabbing, or swelling. Then, wait another day or two to make sure there isn’t a delayed reaction.
If your skin looks and feels okay after the test, you’re ready for the peel. Here’s what to do at home:
- Wash your face with a gentle cleanser or soap and pat dry.
- Protect sensitive areas, such as the skin around your eyes and nostrils, with petroleum jelly.
- Start with the lowest concentration. For example, try an 8% TCA, 30% lactic acid, or 30% glycolic acid peel. Use a cotton swab or pad to apply the solution evenly.
- ONLY leave it on for as long as the instructions recommend.
- Remove the peel per the instructions.
- Apply the neutralizing solution if one comes with the peel.
After the peel, it’s important to protect your brand-new smooth skin from sun exposure by wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
After the peel: what to do and expect
Your skin may be red and sensitive after the peel, so you should only use gentle, non-irritating products while it heals and sloughs off. But when it does heal, your skin is going to look great!
You may notice some peeling dead skin. Don’t peel it off! Let it flake off naturally. And most importantly, it can’t be said enough to your skin will be sensitive to the sun to always wear sunscreen when you leave the house. Along with wearing sunscreen, try to avoid direct sunlight and spending extended periods outdoors. And lastly, moisturize; it will help the healing process.
Avoid the following products for a week or two after the peel:
- Retinoid products
- Vitamin C serum
- Exfoliating scrubs
- Tanning beds and products
Once your skin settles down after the peel, you can look forward to glowing, smoother, more even-toned skin even after your first peel. Additionally, peels will bring even better results.