Shedding Light On Chemical Peels

Article by Cristal G. Orpilla, RN

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As the infamous Sex and the City episode demonstrated, chemical peels, when done incorrectly,  may have effects that don’t always turn out pretty.  While the episode may have painted an exaggerated picture as to how chemical peels work,  changing times have led to advances in the cosmetic industry. Today,  new chemical peels won’t leave you red, irritated, crusty, or needing time off to hide from the world.

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Chemical peel for clear skin

New skin is just a peel away!

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Skin exfoliation through chemical peels have been around since ancient times. The earliest known chemical exfoliation dates back to the times of Cleopatra,  who was known for taking baths in sour milk (from which lactic acid peels are derived). Chemical peels can be used to treat brown spots and pigmentation (such as dark spots from acne and melasma), photodamage, fine lines, mild blemishes, and acne scars.  They minimize the signs of aging and skin damage by sloughing away the “dead” superficial skin layers. Doing so kickstarts the body’s natural healing process, and the response is generation of fresh, new skin cells that work their way to the surface to replace the layers that have been removed.  New skin cells lead to an overall appearance to rejuvenation that will make one look refreshed, and may even take a few years off the face.  Chemical peels are generally safe,  but as with  all cosmetic procedures,  possible complications sometimes arise,  and it’s important to know that there are various types of peels that react differently to each skin type. Not all chemical peels are a one type fits all.

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A chemical peel works its magic by acting on specific layers of the skin. There are three different levels of chemical peels: Superficial (Light), Medium, and Deep. These peels are categorized according to the depth of skin wounding.

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Deep Peels
Deep peels, such as the Phenol peel are much more serious and aimed at deeper wrinkles, photoaging, and strong discolorations. Deep peels extend injury to the dermis,  and if done correctly, offer the most dramatic results.  However, down time with this type of chemical peel is very long (expect it to be around at least 2 weeks), so be prepared to take time off-  a la Samantha in Sex and the City. There is also much higher risks of complications from irritation, chemical burning, and scarring associated with this type of chemical peel. Since the injury goes much deeper into the layers of the skin,  healing time is also prolonged. Healing time varies from each individual,  and it is common for complete healing time of deep peels to be as much as 2-3 weeks.

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Medium Peels

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) is a popular peel in this category of chemical peels. Other peels in this category are higher concentrations (usually above 30%) of glycolic acid and salicylic acid peels. Medium peels go just a tad deeper than mild peels,  and have the major benefit of reducing minor wrinkles. However,  they have a greater chance of complications,  namely increased sensitivity (redness, stinging),  and increased risks of scarring and pigmentation problems if done callously. Expect down time to be up to 1 week.

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Superficial Peels

Mild, superficial peels include lower concentrations of glycolic acid (less than 30%), lactic acid (10-20%),  salicylic acid (beta-hydroxy, about 10%) ,  and Jessner’s peels (a Franken-peel of 14% salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol in an ethanol base) . The level of skin injury is limited to just the top layer,  the stratum corneum. They are suitable for many skin types and result in skin that is smoother and brighter. They produce little to no side effects,  and act to remove the very topmost layers of damaged skin.  However, it’s important to note that one treatment won’t give dramatic results.  You will definitely need more than just one.  A series of peels,  done once every 4-6 weeks will help achieve that youthful glow, smooth surface, and even skin tone. Typically,  good results are achieved after 6 peels.   Peel packages, if offered, are the way to go, as may get the most bang for your buck  since most skincare professionals give fair discounts when purchasing peels in series,  as opposed to a la carte treatments.

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I am a big fan of monthly superficial peels.  First off,  I don’t like the redness and downtime associated with medium-deep peels,  and also I personally feel that “progressive, not aggressive” is the way to go when it comes to skincare.  The skin is delicately strong.   It is the largest organ in the body and helps to protect from many environmental insults,  but it is in no way immune to harsh chemicals.  Proper technique and discretion of the person applying the peel must be taken. But generally speaking, superficial peels are safe. There little to no down time associated with light peels,  the most common being transient redness that lasts a few hours, and mild sloughing, dryness, or peeling that disappears within a few days.

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Hopefully this shed some light on how peels can be used to help achieve smoother skin. Now shed your old exterior!  Chemical peels are a great way to maintain smooth skin that is even in tone. New skin is just a peel away!

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Cristal

Cristal

Online Editor, Beauty Writer at Beauty-Goodies
As a New York City-based registered nurse with backgrounds in pharmacology, medical research, medical spa aesthetics, and cosmetic dermatology, Cristal became interested in the ways people go about achieving beauty. When she's not working full-time at Cornell Medical Center or performing aesthetic treatments at a midtown NYC medical spa, she daylights as a beauty writer, and has a penchant for scoring sample sale treasures, bellydancing, playing dress-up, and of course, chatting about beauty goodies.
Cristal

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