As an esthetician, I hear lots of questions about chemical peels. The term itself seems to make some people feel uncomfortable– “Exactly what chemicals do you use?” “Is it painful?” “Will my face peel and be red?” Read on to find out how natural and gentle chemical peels can be, and how much they can improve the texture and quality of your skin.
What is a chemical peel?
A chemical peel is an enzyme or acid that is applied to the skin to help slough away dead skin cells and allow new cells to regenerate. In this way, it is similar to microdermabrasion, but instead of a mechanical exfoliation, the natural acids penetrate and exfoliate the outer layers of skin. This exfoliation effectively treats skin conditions such as fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, age spots, acne, and dry skin.
There are many different types of chemical peels. They range in strength from “light” peels, which can be done by an esthetician, to “medium” and “deep” peels, which can usually only be done under a doctor’s supervision.
Light peels (sometimes called “lunchtime peels” because there is no downtime post-peel) are very popular because there is no discomfort and usually no visible skin flaking or peeling. Instead, the skin regenerates itself on a cellular level—leaving skin bright, glowing, and younger-looking.
What are the different kinds of light peels?
One of the most common light peels is an AHA peel. AHAs are natural acids derived from foods. For example, glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane, and lactic acid is found in sour milk. A lactic acid peel is great for people with dry and/or sensitive skin because it is slightly milder than glycolic acid. A glycolic peel works well for normal, thick, and/or acneic skin.* Both glycolic and lactic acid peels help do the following:
- fade acne scars or other hyperpigmentation of the skin
- even and brighten skin tone
- smooth rough skin
- improve appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- deep clean pores
Another peel that is effective is a salicylic acid peel. Salicylic acid, a BHA (beta-hydroxy acid), is derived from willow bark and is an excellent treatment for acne. Like an AHA peel, it is a non-aggressive peel, but does penetrate deeper into pores, helping clear away dead skin cells, treat blackheads, and control sebum production.
What else should I know about AHA and BHA peels?
While technically these AHA and BHA peels are considered “light,” compared with deeper peels that must be administered by a physician, it is important to note that these peels can still vary greatly in strength and depth for several reasons.
First, some professional peel products have a higher concentration of active ingredients. For example, a peel with 20% glycolic acid will be stronger than one with 15%. But also, some professional peels have a very low pH. The lower the pH of the product, the more acidic it is, which means a more intense and deeper peel.
Before getting a peel it is critical that your esthetician analyzes your skin first. Many clients I have seen come in asking for the most aggressive peel with their facial because they want immediate visible results—which is understandable! However, many skin conditions (including acne, dry, and sensitive skin) can actually be worsened, not improved, by too aggressive a peel.
Through an in-depth analysis and discussion about your skin, your esthetician will be able to decide what kind of peel to administer with your facial, what concentration and pH to use, and also how long to keep the peel on the skin. The results will be fresher, more even-toned, and beautiful younger-looking skin.
*Be sure to check out my Fall Special- the Ultimate Pumpkin Peel Facial. It is a glycolic peel with powerful pumpkin enzymes that brightens skin.