Looking for a Post-Summer Skin Rejuvenation? Dr. Jessica Krant Explains the Most Popular Chemical Peels to Refresh Your Skin

Skin Care

If you’re unfamiliar with chemical peels, the concept might be quite daunting, but the effects of chemical peels can be great, ranging from treatment of mild skin discoloration to deeper wrinkles. If you’re in a hurry, some peels can even be done quickly over your lunch break.

Of course, individuals vary, so the type of chemical peel you need is dependent upon your skin type and your concern. Typically, the higher the concentration and lower the pH of the chemical, the deeper penetration. Peels can range from superficial to deep penetration, and recovery time will lengthen accordingly. Discussed below are three different types of peels and the effects they provide.

Superficial: Alpha-Hydroxy and Beta-Hydroxy Acids

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) contain fruit acids like glycolic, citric, and lactic acids and can be found over-the-counter in certain concentrations as ingredients in cleansers, moisturizers, and the like. Stronger concentrations are handled in-office by a physician.

One of the most common types of AHAs is glycolic acid, which can be applied to the patient’s face without anesthesia or sedation. Glycolic peels are an effective treatment for mild skin discolorations or rough skin, and can leave the skin looking fresh and rejuvenated in as little as one use. Glycolic acid works by removing the stratum corneum (uppermost layer of skin) to promote the production of collagen and elastin to combat fine lines and wrinkles, and can also break up melanin pigments to lighten skin. Generally, glycolic peels are suitable for all skin tones and skin types, and range in concentrations from 30%-70%.

A beta hydroxyl acid (BHA) peel, on the other hand, contains salicylic acid, which is commonly found in over-the-counter acne products up to concentrations of 2%. It is lipid soluble, so salicylic acid is ideal for those with oily or acne-prone skin. Because of its ability to deeply penetrate clogged pores to remove dead skin cells and other debris, the patient is left with clear, healthy skin.

The healing time for AHA and BHA peels can last anywhere from 1 to 7 days as your skin will be red and scaling may develop. Patients can resume activity immediately after treatment, and results can be seen after one use, although some opt for multiple sessions to maintain their glow.

Medium: Trichloroacetic Acid

A trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peel is a medium-depth peel that is used to treat age spots, fine lines and wrinkles, freckles and moderate skin discolorations and can provide modest tightening for sun-damaged skin. Whereas superficial peels only penetrate to the stratum corneum, TCA peels penetrate all five layers of the epidermis to the papillary layer (upper layer of the dermis) to improve the appearance of skin. TCA peels are suitable for darker-skinned patients, unlike deep peels that can cause permanent bleaching effects on your skin.

TCA peels range in concentration from 15%-35%, with the higher concentrations potentially mimicking the results of deep peels. Healing time can last anywhere from one to two weeks, with skin appearing red and swollen. Patients may also experience blistering, with skin crusting and peeling off by the end of the second week. Your physician will likely prescribe a daily soak followed by an ointment during your healing period as well as antiviral medication. Follow-ups with your physician are generally required.

Deep: Phenol

Phenol peels are the deepest-penetrating peels and can provide the most dramatic results because phenol penetrates all the way to reticular layer of the dermis, and potentially even to the subcutaneous tissue if necessary. Because of this, phenol peels are able to reverse deep-set signs of aging, such as moderate lines and wrinkles, age spots, freckles, and shallow scars to leave the patient with brighter, tighter, and smoother skin.

A full-faced procedure will take about one or two hours to perform, during which patients will experience a slight burning sensation. After the peel is neutralized, petroleum jelly is applied over the application area, which begins crusting almost immediately. Phenol, however, might leave your skin permanently bleached, which is why it is not recommended for those with darker complexions.

With such an intense peel comes equally intense recovery. Phenol peels are performed only on the face, either in full or in specific areas, and require two to three weeks’ worth of bandaging. Patients are instructed to perform 4-6 daily soaks followed by an application of ointment for the first 14 days. During your healing time, your skin will appear red and crusty, with scabs and flaking. It may also appear sunburned for as long as three months, during which time you should have minimal sun exposure.  Follow-ups with your physician should be frequent during your healing time.

Bottom Line

Chemical peels are great for those looking to rejuvenate their skin, and the wide range of peels available makes it a suitable treatment for many. Of course, every person is different, so consult your physician to discuss the treatments that are best-suited for you and your skin. Never purchase peels online without proper dermatological guidance, as some peels have a very high risk for burning, permanent scarring, and infection.

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