What is a chemical peel?
Basically, chemical peels help your skin do what it naturally does better. As you age, your skin cannot renew itself as well as it did before. Peels remove the top layer of damaged skin to promote the growth of new, healthy skin, which aids in increased collagen production and improves the efficacy of your current skincare routine. Beyond that, chemical peels are used to address a multitude of skin concerns including hyperpigmentation, acne, aging, and even rosacea.
“Chemical peels are a proven, safe, and effective way to renew and regenerate healthy skin," explains David J. Goldberg, MD, a NYC-based cosmetic dermatologist. "They're one of the best treatments to keep your skin healthy. Simply put, peels give your skin a glow and renew the skin cells we were all born with. They unclog pores and remove the dead skin cells, bringing healthy cells to the surface."
While there are many different types of peels varying in severity, from maximum strength formulas to more gentle versions, like PCA Skin's Sensi Peel, the process is always the same. A chemical solution is applied to your face, it tingles—sometimes stings—and then you wash it off. Afterward, smoother, brighter skin is revealed, and, with continued use, fine lines and wrinkles soften as well.
Why should I get one?
"Especially as we get older," Goldberg continues, "most of us need peels to support the cell turnover process that slows down as we age. This allows the skin to shed dead cells and bring new, fresh skin to the surface—reducing photo damage and promoting a healthier, more radiant complexion. Like any product in your regular skincare routine, you need to use it regularly to see the best results."
How do I choose the right one?
"Chemical peels are divided into groups based on the depth of skin they affect," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "The milder ones only resurface the top few cells of skin, while stronger chemical peels can break down skin to a deeper level."
She continues, "The deeper the peel, the greater the risk of side effects such as burns or pigmentary alteration, but also the greater cosmetic benefit—smoother skin, fewer wrinkles, more even tone. Gentle peels can be derived from both alpha and beta hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid). This is safe in pregnancy and for most skin types. TCA (trichloroacetic acid) peels, jessners, and salicylic acid peels, and peels which contain a combination of ingredients, can be found at your dermatologist's office. They contain retinol, phenol, and many other ingredients which help enhance effects.
"Natural and more gentle peels can be found over the counter and feel like a slight tingling, almost refreshing feeling. They can be done on a more regular basis, even weekly, to keep skin looking smooth and bright. As the skin ages and the natural cell cycle of skin turnover slows down, medical-grade chemical peels are useful to obtain more dramatic results. These peels induce a slight stinging sensation for a few seconds before they're neutralized or cooled off."
Is there downtime?
"Downtime varies depending on the depth of the peel, your skin type, and skin resilience—but there are many peels that offer little to no downtime," says Goldberg. "Typically, the deeper the peel you receive, the more extensive peeling you will experience."
"Immediately after a medical-grade peel, your skin may look a little white," Nazarian adds. "It's a sign that it's breaking down the skin appropriately. In a few days, you might find your skin is starting to flake in several areas—the subtle resurfacing is what leads to smoother, clearer skin. Options like the Vi Peels are very gentle but medical-grade, and are safe for all skin types. (That's hard to find!) So you can have the results with minimal risk. It's applied in nearly the same way, but rather than rinsing off, this peel is left on for several hours."
And FYI: This is how to use the best anti-agers.
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.
Soleymani T, Lanoue J, Rahman Z. A Practical Approach to Chemical Peels: A Review of Fundamentals and Step-by-step Algorithmic Protocol for Treatment. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018;11(8):21-28.