What is a Chemical Peel?

So you’ve had facials, you’ve tried microdermabrasion, been using a retinol cream
faithfully, and you still have that stubborn, unresponsive acne. Or brown spot. Or
incessant, t-zone oiliness causing blackheads. What to do?

After trying out some of these less aggressive treatments, it might be time to kick it up a
notch. Chemical peels are a great way to step it up and finally get some relief from
some common skin imperfections like acne, hyperpigmentation, blackheads, excessive
oil production, and superficial photodamage.

There are many, many different types of chemical peels on the market today, with
countless blends of ingredients and acids that address a wide range of different skin
concerns. They can also vary in how aggressively they treat the skin, from superficial
peels that produce little to no visible peeling, to deeper peels that cause the skin to go
through a complete shedding cycle like a snake!

Chemical peels work by causing what is known as a “kerolytic effect” on the skin. This
means that when the peel solution is applied, it is essentially creating a controlled injury
to the uppermost layers of skin, causing them to break down and shed away. After
about 7 to 10 days, this “injured” skin will have completely peeled away and fallen off on
it’s own, revealing the fresh, smooth, brand new skin underneath. Some types of peels
don’t produce any noticeable peeling, but exfoliate the skin’s surface at a microscopic
level that you can’t necessarily see with the naked eye. These types of peels would be
ideal for someone trying to combat a stubborn skin problem, but can’t afford a week or
more of downtime.

So how do you know which type of peel to look for? It is important to go to a trained
and experienced skin care specialist, ideally at a dermatology or plastic surgery clinic.
Most often, peels are performed by a cosmetic nurse or technician, who will have had
extensive training in the proper use and application of a variety of chemical peels. They
will also be able to make a recommendation on the type of peel you should be getting,
based on your skin type and what your concerns are.

Chemical peels are a great way to step it up and finally get some relief from
some common skin imperfections like acne, hyperpigmentation, blackheads, excessive
oil production, and superficial photodamage.

Beta-Hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid, are common acne-fighting peel ingredients.
BHAs penetrate deeply into the pores to target and destroy acne bacteria, helping
existing acne lesions to dry up and heal, while also preventing the onset of new
breakouts by reducing oil production. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as lactic acid,
are great for anti-aging concerns such as fine lines and photodamage, and have an
overall brightening effect on the skin. These types of peels can produce just a couple
days of light flaking, or 4 to 7 days of full peeling depending on their strength and how
they are administered. Some peels, like TCA (Trichloracetic Acid), are very aggressive
and produce deep peeling that may last 10 days or more, but help with more serious
concerns such as depressed or pitted acne scarring, and more severe forms of sun

The cost of a single peel treatment can range from $50 to $75 for a very light, nonaggressive
treatment, to upwards of $200 to $400 for the more intense peels done in a
plastic surgery setting. It is usually recommended to have a series of about 4 to 6 peels
done, usually on a monthly basis until desired results are seen. In addition to flaking or
peeling, it is normal to experience redness and a warm, sunburnt sort of sensation
during the time that your skin is recovering. An overall sensitivity is also to be expected,
so it is very important to be gentle with your skin while undergoing the peeling process –
avoiding sun exposure, medicated skincare products, waxing, or other forms of
exfoliation is paramount to ensuring your skin heals well without any major side effects.

Despite the downtime of peels, many of my patients comment on how satisfying it is to
get rid of that old, dull, top layer of skin. If you can handle a week of looking like a snake
for the sake of achieving a flawless, clear complexion, peels might be just what you’re
looking for! Finally kiss those stubborn skin imperfections goodbye!


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