What Are Chemical Peels

Chemical peels first gained popularity in the 1960s when skin-care options were few and far between. Chemical peel treatments have remained a favorite because they can resurface and refresh the skin by diminishing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, sun damage, enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation and acne scars.

Today, chemical peels are used for various skin concerns across all ages, and are often coupled with other skin-enhancing treatments for maximum benefits.

The process of a chemical peel is relatively simple. “Most acid peels work by disrupting the bonds between dead skin cells. The speed and depth of exfoliation is determined by the specific acid used, its acidity (or pH), the concentration of the solution, and the amount of time it’s left on the skin,” explains Barrington, IL, dermatologist David Van Dam, MD. Once the skin is injured by the peel (in a controlled and safe way), the skin begins to naturally repair itself. The dead skin flakes away to reveal new, fresh skin.

It’s extremely important that the person administering these treatments is an experienced skin practitioner—if the peel isn’t left on long enough there will be no effect on the skin; if it’s left on for too long, it can cause damage to the living cells.

Chemical skin peels can range from superficial (often called micro-resurfacing) to medium or deep. Superficial peels are generally recommended in a series of at least six, while a deeper peel may be a one-time treatment. You may be able to return to your regular activities immediately after a light peel (with mild redness); deeper peels may require significant downtime. Deeper chemical peels, laser resurfacing and Dermabrasion are all cosmetic skin treatments that remove the outer layers of the skin, leaving you with fresh, pink, healthier-looking skin once healing is complete.

Chemical peel agents include:

  • Glycolic Acid Peels (one of many alphahydroxy acids) – a light peel that provides subtle results in the treatment of faint hyperpigmentation, acne and wrinkles.
  • Salicylic Acid Peels (an ingredient also found in a Jessner's Peel) – a light to medium peel.
  • TCA-based Peels (Obagi Blue Peel) – a medium peel. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels treat pronounced blemishes, lines and pigmentation, yielding softer, refined complexions, but these come with a recovery period that ranges from seven to 10 days or more.
  • Phenols (croton oil-based) – a deep peel.
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