Sun exposure, the demands and stress of everyday life and lifestyle habits can leave their fingerprints on our skin, making it seem aged, dull and tired. How would you feel if you could peel off all those skin marks? They say chemistry is the study of transformation and, indeed, through chemical peels, you can have brand-new skin within a few minutes. Dating back to Cleopatra's age and her famous milk bath, the contemporary method of chemical peeling treats fine lines and wrinkles, acne scars and discolorations, and renews damaged skin, restoring its lost glow and firmness.

Moreover, it is used as a treatment of skin lentigines and pre-cancerous skin growths. As its name implies, skin rejuvenation is achieved with the use of special chemicals adapted to the particular needs of even the most demanding skin type, improving its texture and giving it a more relaxed and youthful look.

Here we'll take a look at skin peels and what you need to know if you are considering this procedure.

The Types of Chemical Peels

The process of a chemical peel involves the application of a chemical solution to the surface of the skin in order to safely remove the skin's outer layer. The amount of removable skin depends on the type of solution used, the strength of the product and the duration of the application.

Chemical peels are usually categorized according to the depth at which they penetrate and act.

Here are the main types of peels and the terminology used to describe them.

Light/Superficial Peel

This type of peel removes the top layer of the skin, the epidermal layer. It is the most common type of peel and often contains some type of hydroxy acid, known for its exfoliating properties when it comes in contact with the skin. Different types of hydroxy acids are available in the market. These include alpha hydroxy acids, such as lactic acid and tartaric acid, also known as AHA. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid and is unique among hydroxy acids in the sense that it can penetrate deeper into the sebaceous glands and cause scaling even in more oily areas of the face and head. That is why for many years now, dermatologists have used it to treat acne in people with very oily skin.

Medium Peel

This type of peel penetrates deeper into the skin, reaching the upper layer of epidermis known as the papillary dermis. It also includes the use of stronger chemicals. The most common of these is trichloracetic acid (TCA), which is usually used at a concentration of 15-35 percent to avoid possible side effects. TCA can also be used in combination with glycolic acid or other peels to achieve a more controlled and appropriate depth of peeling.

Deep Peel

This type of peel extends into the deeper layers of the skin. It is generally applied using phenol acid or TCA in excess of 40 percent. More invasive peels are more effective. However, you have to make sure they will be applied by a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon in order to avoid possible complications associated with the application.

Regardless of the depth of exfoliation, your skin will be regenerated. However, bear in mind it should be healed completely before you proceed to the next peeling treatment.

Obviously, for more serious problems such as deep wrinkles or acne scars, you should consider a deeper peel. Your dermatologist may also recommend that you combine the peel with another method, such as neo-collagenogenesis, Co2 laser, microneedling or platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy for best results. When your skin is fully healed, it will be noticeably improved due to the production of new collagen and elastin tissue.

The more extensive the peeling, the greater the improvement of your skin. Nonetheless, the minority may experience some side effects from deep exfoliation. That is why the newest approach to tackling more serious problems is to combine more treatments along with the peel.

The Conditions Peels Can Treat

Chemical peels can be applied to several body parts. However, the more usual areas are the face, shoulders, back and chest. According to their type, they treat different skin conditions. In particular:

Light Peels

They improve the appearance and texture of the skin, dealing with problems such as dry skin, photoaging (brown spots and fine lines), gentle signs of acne, aging and blemishes.

Medium Peels

They reduce early wrinkles, deeper acne scars and some more intense pigmentation problems.

Deep Peels

They reduce the appearance of deeper wrinkles and scars.

You should be aware that chemical peels do not reduce skin pores, they do not contour your face, and they do not treat very deep scars.

The Procedure

Depending on the type and the combination of chemicals used, different procedures are followed.

Light Peels

In this procedure, a doctor applies the solution of hydroxy acid to your skin after it has been thoroughly cleaned. The application is short and simple. No anesthesia is required since you will only feel a slight tingling. The process does not take more than 10-15 minutes. The doctor lets the solution act for about 15 minutes and then cleans the area. You don't need to use any ointment after treatment.

Medium Peels

In this procedure, the application of TCA to the face takes about 15 minutes and it is done in the private practice. Before the application, the doctor carefully cleans the area. It may also be necessary to use a soothing ointment but it is not necessary to use anesthesia since the chemical mixture itself acts like an anesthetic. At first, you may experience a sense of burning along with tingling. The healing of the skin is relatively short. Sometimes you may need two or more TCA sessions within a 1-2 month interval to achieve the desired result.

Deep Peels

In this type of procedure, the session lasts between one and two hours for the entire face and about 15 minutes for a small area. It's usually done in the private practice or in a surgical outpatient clinic, and local anesthesia is sometimes used to relax the patient. At the end of the session, the doctor puts petroleum jelly on the treated area. This should be applied for the next couple of days. Unlike the two previous methods, phenol therapy only occurs once and has the most dramatic results. Recovery is slow and full healing can take several months.

Precautions to Consider With Skin Peels

Irrespective of the type of peel, the use of sunscreen after the treatment is essential. Especially after medium and deep peels, you should take more precautions due to the deeper damage to your skin. You also should apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment 2-3 times a day to reduce the risk of infection. If you suffer from severe itching during recovery or you feel pain, it's recommended to take antihistamines and mild painkillers, such as paracetamol.

Moreover, it would be better to sleep on your back with some pillows under your head in order to reduce swelling. You shouldn't be close to heat sources such as hair dryer or central heating radiators, and you shouldn't use very hot water while you are healing.

Finally, electrolysis, waxing, mechanical peeling/exfoliation and sun tanning should be avoided for at least a month following the procedure.

Potential Side Effects of Chemical Peels

Significant side effects of chemical peel are not very common. However, the following have been observed:

  • Scars after treatment
  • Infection of the area
  • Temporary or permanent discoloration of the skin
  • Spots on the skin
  • Danger for patients with a history of heart disease (using phenol)

Be sure to reduce the chances of these complications by following your doctor's instructions before and after treatment.

Don't Get a Chemical Skin Peel If ...

Chemical peels are contraindicated for individuals who:

  • Have recurrent herpes
  • Have used isotretinoin in the last six months
  • Get a lot of sun exposure
  • Are at a high risk for skin discoloration. This includes dark skinned people, pregnant women, and people taking medications that affect skin photosensitivity
  • Have warts
  • Have healing wounds or have undertaken radiotherapy recently
  • Have a history of keloids or scars
  • Have had cryotherapy within the previous months of treatment

A chemical peel is one of the treatments that can offer you the maximum improvement of your skin with the minimum time and effort. As long as it is performed by an experienced, certified doctor and you follow his instructions, there is nothing to fear since it is considered one of the safest cosmetic procedures. And it's a good thing: Glowing skin is always in!