Here’s What You Really Need To Know About Chemical Peels

by | Apr 20, 2023 | Skincare

While they sound scary, chemical peels are actually great and work wonders. Plus, did you know they’ve been around since the 1800s? Yup! And they’re all the rage on TikTok right now, more specifically the phenol peel and its capabilities. While many are weary, opting for less invasive procedures like chemical peels has a unique role to play in skin rejuvenation.

In simple terms, chemical peels use acid to exfoliate the top layer of skin which helps diminish dark spots, fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. Dr. Alek Nikolic, aesthetic medicine specialist and owner of Aesthetic Facial Enhancement unmasks several myths surrounding this treatment.

Myth: All peels are the same

Nope. All peels differ in ingredients as well as how deep the chemicals penetrate the skin. There are three types of chemical peels: superficial, medium, and deep.

Superficial peels 

When people talk about chemical peels, they usually refer to superficial peels, which are the mildest. “Superficial peels require little downtime, and the patient may experience slight redness for around 20 to 60 minutes with some dryness or flaking that can be experienced in the healing phase,” explains Dr. Nikolic. Typical acids used are salicylic, glycolic, and kojic acid. This peel is most suitable for treating dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles.

“Superficial peels are also the most popular peels that patients come in for. They are usually superficial peels like glycolic or lactic acid of various concentrations or a combination of ingredients like glycolic and citric acid, or mandelic and lactic acid,” says Dr. Nikolic.

Get an ace chemical peel with these…

DermExcel Clarify Peel

This peel, containing salicylic acid, reduces oil production and boosts your skin’s cellular turnover.

32% AHA BHA Peel

This treatment works to smooth pores, improve skin texture and brightens skin tone.

Vitamin C Overnight Peel

Vitamin C in this concentration leaves skin feeling smoother and softer, with a more even skin tone.

Medium-depth peels

Medium-depth peels contain trichloroacetic acid at concentrations of 35 percent or less. These peels are useful for treating a significant amount of photodamage, acne scars, sunspots, and dark circles. “The recovery time is a bit longer than with the superficial peels, typically ranging between five to seven days. You can expect your skin to be raw and it will need to be covered with ointment constantly,” adds Dr. Nikolic.

Deep peels

The deep peels, which target more serious skin problems like severe acne scarring, saggy skin, or excessive sun damage, also use trichloroacetic acid, but at higher concentrations, starting at 50 percent. The downtime is about ten days but can even stretch to two weeks. 

“Deep peels and in particular, phenol peels, have been rarely associated with causing heart rhythm disturbances which can in certain individuals lead to heart attacks. All peels can lead to scarring especially if not applied correctly or left on for too long,” says Dr. Nikolic.

The most popular peels are generally the medical, superficial peels like glycolic or lactic acid (various concentrations are used), or a combination of ingredients like glycolic and citric acid, or mandelic and lactic acid.

No matter which type of chemical peel you get, you will be required to follow some post-treatment precautions. For the superficial peel, you aren’t allowed to actively tan and must wear an SPF 30 or higher when outdoors. When it comes to the medium and deep peels it is advisable to avoid sun exposure during the recovery phase, which includes not actively tanning for four weeks post-treatment. Also, follow and apply the aftercare guidelines that your doctor has recommended.

Myth: Chemical peels cause your skin to literally peel off

“The amount of peeling that the patient experiences will be dependent on the current condition of their skin, the level of sensitivity as well as the type of peel,” says Dr. Nikolic. Before the actual peel, your doctor or skincare practitioner will clean the skin to remove any sunscreen or makeup, because if there is any oil on the skin, it will act as a barrier and prevents the acid from penetrating deeper into the skin. 

An ointment is then applied around areas like the nose, mouth, and eyes, where you don’t want the peel. The acid is then applied. The duration for which the acid stays on the face depends on the type and strength of the peel.

“During the peeling process, the chemicals cause a reaction with the skin and break down the outer layers of dead skin and depending on the type of peel will cause changes in the deeper layers which will boost collagen production and even the skin tone. The treatment can cause small, controlled skin injuries and produces an Inflammatory response, allowing it to regenerate and make new fresh skin,” explains Dr. Nikolic.

Myth: Chemical peels are bad for you

Chemical peels have gotten a bad rep because of their association with chemicals. We will admit that the word “chemical” doesn’t sound like anything you should be applying to your skin but trust us when we say that it can be very beneficial to your skin texture when applied correctly. “We need to acknowledge that not all chemicals are bad. While it is a natural reaction to question whether a treatment can damage your skin, there are always risks present with any cosmetic treatment. Chemical peels are safe when applied correctly,” adds Dr. Nikolic.

Myth: Only people with problem skin should do chemical peels and people with dry skin should never do chemical peels

A range of peels targets a specific skin problem. Whether you are suffering from dry skin, sensitive skin, or problematic skin there’s a peel that can treat your skin concern.

“It is important not to expect that one chemical peel treatment session with solve your skin concerns. Chemical peels are more effective when done in a series. Your doctor or skincare practitioner will discuss what your treatment plan will look like. Staying on your recommended peel schedule is critical so that you can achieve your desired results,” advises Dr. Nikolic.

“Generally speaking, almost all skin types can handle peels. Sensitive skin does well with mandelic acid or lactic acid. If you suffer from extremely reactive or inflamed skin I would not recommend having a chemical peel, or at least consider a small spot test to see how the skin reacts. Similarly, if you suffer from multiple allergies I would also do a spot test first,” adds Dr. Nikolic.

Myth: Getting a chemical peel involves a lot of downtime

This is entirely dependent on the type of peel that you receive.  A superficial peel requires no active tanning and an SPF of 30 or higher when outdoors. Medium and deep peels require no sun exposure during the recovery phase and no active tanning for 4 weeks after full recovery and skin healing. Also, follow and apply the aftercare guidelines that your doctor has recommended.

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