Chemical peels

What is a Chemical peel?

In simple terms a chemical peel is a treatment that uses an acid to remove the outer layers of the skin. The acid is allowed to penetrate into the superficial layer of the skin (epidermis) to produce a quick exfoliation and freshen up or deeper into the skin (dermis) to achieve correction of skin problems. These can be open pores, sun damage, uneven texture, fine lines and laxity.

Skin peels are amongst the oldest anti aging treatments with descriptions of milk peels (lactic acid) being used in ancient Egypt. More recently in the 1900s the chemical peel was a mainstay of anti-aging in the USA. These peels were performed by non medical lay peelers and the methods and mixtures of their peels were often family secrets. At this time the primary ingredient was phenol and as these were often very deep peels (to achieve skin tightening) they would also kill the pigment cells in the deep layers of the dermis. This would give rise to the characteristic pigment free facial skin known as the china doll appearance.

What are the different types of chemical peels?

Glycolic and Fruit acid peels

Glycolic, Salicylic acid, Mandelic Acid and Lactic acids are common examples of these. They will generally produce superficial peeling or exfoliation only. Fruit acid peels need to be neutralised, therefore incorrect application can lead to significant skin damage. Salicylic acid peels are a useful treatment for active acne especially on the chest and back. Recovery is usually in 1 or 2 days.

Common brands are Agera, MD Formulations, Skinceuticals and Jan Marini

TCA peels

Trichloroacetic acids are the basis for these types of peels, they can be used as a superficial exfoliation or a medium depth peel. They can improve scarring and produce skin tightening. Recovery takes 7 to 10 days.

Common brands are Obagi, Skintech Easy Peel and Dermaceutic Peels

Phenol peels

Phenol peels are the deepest of all peels and should only be performed by appropriately qualified doctors and surgeons. Commonly they will be performed in hospital with ECG monitoring due to the danger of toxicity to the heart and kidneys. Results are significant and can be long lasting.

Do I need to prepare my skin for a peel?

Ideally skin should be prepared for at least 6 weeks prior to having a peel. Healthy skin heals and regenerates better than unhealthy skin. Therefore properly prepared skin will respond better to a peel.

Can I sunbathe after a peel?

A primary reason for having a skin peel is to reduce and reverse the effects of sun damage. Secondly the skin which regrows after a deeper peel will be more delicate than the skin you had previously. If you wish to benefit long term from the skin peel you must protect yourself from ongoing sun damage. After all you would always ensure that your baby or child wore their sunscreen and avoided sunbathing.

What are the benefits of a peel?

  • Texture of the skin will improve.
  • Sun damage will be reduced and pigment will become more even.
  • Pores will reduce in size.
  • Fine lines will diminish or disappear.
  • Skin will also tighten.
  • Scars can be reduced especially soft acne scars
  • Skin will return to a youthful transluscent and dewy look.

Reduction of lines and skin tightening is seen with medium to deep peels only.

What are the complications of a peel?

Most people suffer no complications. Many listed complications are self limiting and need no specific treatment. However, more serious problems like infection and abnormal healing and scarring may be treated if detected early.

  • Delayed healing.
  • Persistent erythema (redness).
  • Secondary infection.
  • Perioral dermatitis.
  • Acne flare up.
  • Milia.
  • Skin sensitivity.
  • Hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation.
  • Scarring.

Who can perform a peel?

Light peels can be performed be performed by a Beauty Therapist. Medium depth peels can be performed by both doctors and nurses. Deep peels should only be performed by qualified doctors

Always check that the practitioner performing your peel is qualified. If necessary ask to see certificates of training.

How much should I expect to pay?

Superficial peels often cost between £60 and £95 Usually a course of 4 to 6 is undertaken.

Medium depth peels are generally in excess of £550.

Deep or Phenol peels will often be more expensive.

What you should know

Cosmetic medical procedures should only be undertaken by registered medical practitioners.

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