Understanding the Chemical Peel

Chemical peels are a very useful tool in the battle against acne vulgaris, acne scars as wells as aging. Find out everything you need to know about this treatment.

If there is one thing that can benefit almost any skin ailment, its a well performed chemical peel.  A chemical peel can help clear acne, smooth out fine lines and wrinkles, and give the skin a radiant, youthful appearance.  This is not a new form of treatment.  Evidence suggests that chemical peels have been around since the ancient Egyptians.  The women used to bath in sour milk, thus utilizing the lactic acid which gave them a gentle lactic acid peel.  We have made great advancements in how we perform chemical peels since then, and there are now chemical peels for just about anyone these days. 

When performed by a licensed esthetician or dermatologist, peels can result in a smoother and much more youthful appearance to the skin.  I love the results of a chemical peel and have given thousands of them over the years. Here is a rundown of what a chemical peel does, and what you can expect post treatment.

How Chemical Peels Works

While there are many ways to perform a peel, they all work by removing the outer layers of the epidermis, or skin.  The depth that your skin peels is determined by the chemical agent used and the concentration, among, other factors.  This can range from a very light peel to create faster sloughing of the stratum corneum, to deep peeling caused by cell necrosis (cell injury resulting in cell death - it's not as bad as it sounds!) and inflammation in the epidermis, papillary or reticular dermis (the various layers of the skin).

Following a chemical peel, the deeper layers of the skin will respond by regenerating new skin cells and by increasing the production of collagen.  The desired result is not immediate though.  It takes a series of treatments, but res assured, the cumulative result will be a smoother skin and a more youthful appearance. This is why your esthetician will always recommend a series of peels. The benefits build over time.

What to Expect After a Chemical Peel

Immediately after:

The outer layers of your skin have been removed.  Depending on how deep the peel is, your skin can be tender to the touch and you may feel a tightness in your skin.

72 Hours Post Peel:

Re-epithelialization (wound healing) begins, and changes in the skin can be noticed.  The peeling process has already begun. Your skin may be darker around pigmentation areas, feel dry and you will likely begin to notice your skin is flaking and peeling.

Post peel:

Peeling could take 1-5 days be begin.  We all react differently to these treatments.  Peeling is usually complete in 5-10 days - depending on peel depth this may take longer.  Home care is critical with any peel, but most especially with deeper peeling.

For best results, home care is vital post peel.

What is Used During a Chemical Peel?

There are a wide variety of peeling agents, but the most common are as follows:

The type of peeling agent used as well as the strength of each peeling agent used will affect how deeply that agent will penetrate the skin and the outcome.  Your esthetician or dermatologist should be well trained in this subject, and understand how each works on the skin because this helps them know how deeply it will penetrate your skin as well as the benefit you can expect to receive.  

Depending on the treatment goals, different agents may be used or combined to complement each other and achieve the desired outcome.

How deep do these peeling agents go?

The skin has three layers:

  1. The epidermis, which is the outermost layer of skin.  It provides a waterproof barrier and creates our skin tone.
  2. The dermis, which is beneath the epidermis.  It contains tough connective tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands.
  3. The deeper subcutaneous tissue (hypodermis) is made of fat and connective tissue.

For the sake of this article, we will focus on the area that I am licensed in, which is the epidermis.  Exfoliation of this region of the skin is categorized into two areas

  1. Very superficial peel (removes stratum corneum)
  2. Superficial peel (removes all or part of the epidermis, anywhere from stratum granulosum to basal cell layer)

Peeling agents used to achieve a very superficial peel include

You can expect a healing time of 1-4 days with these types of treatments as well as improvement in irregularity in pigmentation, skin texture, and an overall freshness to the skin.

Peeling agents used to achieve a superficial peel include:

  • Glycolic Acid 50%-70%
  • Jessner's Solution (5-10 layers)
  • TCS 10%-35% (1 layer)
  • Salicylic Acid 10%-20%

You can expect a healing time of 4-7 days.  This deeper peel can also result in a smoother skin texture, improvement in the appearance of pigmentation and a fresher appearance to the skin.

Who Should NOT Get a Chemical Peel?

A good esthetician will give you a thorough analysis prior to treatment, even if you have had a chemical peel in the past.  There are certain skin conditions that will not benefit from these types of peels. You should never get a chemical peel if you have active psoriasis, eczema, open lesions on the skin, or any sort of compromise in the epidermal barrier.  Additionally, if you have an active bacterial, viral, fungal, or herpetic infection you should not get a peel.

If you are planning a vacation to a sunny area, it's best if you hold off on getting a peel until after you return home.  Post peel is not a time to be exposing your skin to the sun, as your skin has had layers removed and is very sensitive to the suns damaging rays.  SPF should be worn at all times, but this is most important after a chemical peel. Your SPF should block both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF rating of at least 30.  It should be gentle enough to use daily, and you need to apply it 30 min prior to exposure, being sure to reapply as directed.

If, after reading through this, you are still not sure if a chemical peel is for you, then by all means, speak to your esthetician to see what options are offered.  Most estheticians will offer a free 10 to 15-minute consultation, so take advantage of this. You may be able to have all your questions answered and find the perfect treatment that fits you.

What are your thoughts on chemical peels?  Have I addressed all your concerns? If you have additional questions, please leave them in the comments section below.


2 thoughts on “Understanding the Chemical Peel”

  1. I’ve used the SPF from Pure Source Extracts and it’s really great after a peel because it’s really soothing and healing due to the CBD. Love it! Thanks for the recommendation 👍

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