Chemical peels are popular for a number of reasons: they can correct sun damage, even skin tone, diminish acne scaring, soften the skin, provide deep exfoliate, reduce wrinkles and provide other benefits.
A chemical peel is performed when an acid is applied to the skin, left on for a few minutes and then removed. During the time the acid is in contact with the skin it literally peels away or breaks through top layers of skin allowing for younger, fresher and undamaged skin cells to reach the surface of the skin. This improves the appearance and texture of the skin and stimulates collagen to plump and firm the skin.
Below are the more common types of chemical peels and the benefits which they provide.
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. This means that it's a water soluble, natural acid derived from food, specifically from sugar cane. Glycolic acid is an exfoliate which breaks the bonds which hold dead skin cells together; once these bonds are broken dead skin cells can be rinsed away and allow new skin cells to rise to the surface of the skin.
The benefits of glycolic acid is that it will smooth out an uneven skin tone and reduce the appearance of scarring, lighten skin discolorations such as age and sun spots as well as diminish fine lines and wrinkles. Because alpha hydroxy acids are very drying they also help dry out and clear up blemishes.
Citric, Malic and Tartaric Peels
Citric, Malic, Tartaric acids are alpha hydroxy acids derived from fruit acids, namely citrus, apples, pears and grapes. These peels tend to be very simple and mild; they are often seen on spa menus in combination with a facial because these help loosen dead skin and brighten the appearance of the skin without harsh side effects. These are excellent beginner peels.
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid which is found in certain sour dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. Lactic acid is gentler on the skin than glycolic acid and does a better job of treating age spots than fine lines or wrinkles. Lactic acid is also very good at keeping the skin more moisturized as it is a humectant which pulls moisture from the air and holds it in the skin. Lactic is very good as a lighter peel used for sensitive skin.
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid. This means that this acid is oil soluble and can penetrate into the pore of skin which contains sebum and exfoliate the dead skin cells in the pore. Because of this ability, salicylic acid is normally used in the treatment of acne. As mentioned above, glycolic acid can dry out and clear up blemishes, but for oily and acne prone skin salicylic acid is a better choice because it will get to the root of the acne (the clogged pore) and correct the problem.
Jessner's Peel is a formulation which uses 14% salicylic acid, lactic acid and resorcinol (a chemical compound used for breaking rough, scaly skin) in ethanol. This peel is used to remove top layers of skin while stimulating skin layers beneath the surface. This peel is a more aggressive peel and works at a deeper level than most of the previous listed peels. In addition to being effective on lines and wrinkles, acne scarring and improving skin texture this peel is also effective on hyperpigmentation as well as melasma.
Though there are several other types of peels the above peels are the more well known and popular peels sought after today. Please remember that all acids can increase sun sensitivity and irritate skin. Ensure a sunscreen is used when using these acids and try to avoid direct sun exposure while undergoing treatment with chemical peels. Also, chemical peels are not a one-time treatment. Chemical peels are typically applied in a series for full effectiveness. For instance, a chemical peel may be applied once a week or once every couple of weeks for six weeks and then not applied for six to eight weeks to allow the skin to rest and heal and avoid the skin building up a resistance to the peel.
As with all acids, a variety of concentrations are available to choose from. Products featuring acids in facial creams, lotion or facial washes, in concentrations of 10% or below, can usually be purchased over the counter. Concentrations of 20-70% are considered professional strength and typically require a special neutralizer to be used with the acid to stop the peeling process. Talk with your skin care professional or doctor if considering this option.