Chemical peels act by removing part of the top layer of the skin and help remove superficial skin blemishes revealing a smoother more radiant skin.
Superficial peels are derived from sugar cane or other plants and have a short recovery time: the skin may be slightly red or flaky for a few days but this is not usually enough to interfere with everyday activity. They are usually done as a series of treatments. Medium depth peels remove a thicker layer of skin and may result in greater improvement, but cause significant redness and peeling which takes at least a week or two to resolve.
Superficial Chemical Peels
Superficial chemical peels remove the top layer of skin to reveal a smoother more radiant skin surface and reduce irregular surface pigmentation. They also allow other treatment creams to penetrate better. If done regularly, the repeated removal of the top layer of skin can help stimulate collagen production below and may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Salicylic acid peels (related to aspirin and originating from willow plants) can be particularly useful in acne as they remove the thick layers of oil and old skin that block pores.
Glycolic acid peels (derived from sugar cane) are also very helpful in acne, as well as having a hydrating effect on the skin. The effectiveness of the glycolic acid peel depends on the depth of penetration which in turn depends on its concentration. When starting peels for the first time 20% or 30% concentration is used, and the concentration and time in contact with the skin is gradually increased with each treatment.
Do I need any special preparation?
In the couple of weeks before a glycolic acid peel it is usually helpful to try a light glycolic acid cleanser and/or moisturizer. This is to prepare your skin for the glycolic acid peel and to check that you are not unusually allergic to glycolic acid. Strong exfoliators, microdermabrasion and topical retinoids should be avoided in the week before the superficial peel. Men should not shave on the day of the peel.
How is it done?
Makeup is removed with a pure cleanser. Vaseline petroleum jelly is applied over the lips, corners of the eyes and any broken areas of skin to protect it. The skin is wiped with a cotton pad containing a preparatory lotion. The light acid peel is then applied to the skin which will cause a tingling or warm sensation while it acts on the skin. This can be controlled using a fan or a special cooler that blows cold air onto the skin. The dermatologist or nurse will time the duration that the peel is in contact with your skin (usually 2-5 minutes).
Once the timed treatment has been completed the peel is inactivated by applying a spray of neutralizing lotion over the peel. This acts immediately to inactivate the peel. A soothing spray of cool water and a soothing cream are then applied to the skin. If it is a sunny day sunblock is applied before you leave.
What will I look like afterwards?
Immediately after the peel, the skin may look slightly red, like after mild sunburn. Over the next few days you may notice slight peeling and flaking but this should not interfere with your everyday activity and will settle over a couple of days.
How often should the treatment take place?
In order to obtain the most benefit from superficial peels a series of peels is used. The usual time interval between peels is two to four weeks. At each successive treatment, the time the peel is in contact with the skin is gradually increased until five minutes is reached, and then the strength of the peel is increased.
Medium Depth Peels
Medium depth peels, performed with trichloracetic acid (TCA), remove a slightly thicker layer of skin and therefore produce a more significant improvement. However following a medium depth peel the skin becomes very red and peels for a minimum of one or two weeks, and it is usually necessary to take time off work in the week after treatment while the skin recovers from this deeper peel.