It’s always interesting to see the different reactions I get when asking people what they think about chemical peels. Oftentimes, someone get this horrified look on their face recalling what a friend’s face looked like while healing from a peel. I have to admit that I myself have seen some pictures of post-peel Walking Dead extras… not a pretty sight. I have been enlightened recently, however, that NOT every peel will yield the receiver under house arrest and looking like they belong in a horror film. The key factors are to identify what skin conditions you are targeting, choose a peel strength that is appropriate for your skin tone and type, and ensure the ingredients will help yield the desired results.
Before undergoing a peel, it’s essential to have an understanding of what a peel does for the skin. All esthetic peels are meant to exfoliate the upper layers of the epidermis (mainly the stratum corneum) to speed up skin cell turnover. We want to speed up cell turnover so that the fresh, new skin cells can reach the top layers once the old, jaded skin cells have been sloughed off. Acid peels are meant to induce a chemical exfoliation that shifts the desquamation process into overdrive. Peels also send a signal to the brain that the skin has been injured and newer skin cells are needed to replace the wounded cells. This process is sometimes referred to as “micro-wounding” and accounts for superficial injury to the skin in order to stimulate skin cell proliferation. By speeding up the shedding of dead skin cells, it allows the new fresh cells to reveal themselves which ultimately can result in a brighter, more youthful appearance.
Now, not everyone is suitable for just any kind of peel. In fact, most of the horror stories come from people who used a peel that was not right for their skin type. For example, Fitzpatrick types IV, V, and VI (think olive toned, brown, and black skins) are better suited for lighter peels in the AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) category when starting out. This is because darker skins are more prone to hyperpigmentation. On the other hand, Fitzpatrick I, II, and III (think Casper to Barbie) tend to be able to handle not only AHA but BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) peels as their skin has a higher tolerance with inflammation than darker skins. Some peels can produce visible skin shedding for several days, while some peels won’t produce any visible shedding.
It’s important that your esthetician choose peel types that your skin can not only tolerate, but can benefit from the ingredients. Here is a list of common acid peels and what they are derived from:
Glycolic – comes from sugar cane
Lactic – comes from milk
Tartaric – comes from grapes
Malic – comes from apples
Citric – comes from citrus fruits
Salicylic – comes from sweet birch, willow bark, and wintergreen
So if you are curious about trying a peel, I say go for it, but just be smart about it. Talk with your esthetician about what peels are suitable to start off with and ensure that you do not have any allergies that would pose a problem for you. For example, folks that are allergic to aspirin may need to steer clear of salicylic acid peels since aspirin is derived from salicylates. Once you are on a healthy skin care regimen from which you are seeing positive results, it may be safe to step up your game with a peel. Even though our bodies are magnificently programmed to do what they do, every now and then they need a little nod in the right direction.