Chemical peels are acids. Scary sounding, but when administered by a highly trained professional, they can be wonderful for your skin.
There are AHA (alpha-hydroxy) and BHA (beta-hydroxy) peels. They are derived from many different sources (fruit, dairy, nuts, bark, etc.), and come in differing percentages (strengths) and pH levels. Some are oil-loving, others are water loving. Some work mainly on the surface and others penetrate deeper into the structure of the pore.
Many times a professional will mix or layer different types of peels to achieve different results. Certain peels may be preferred over others, and there are specifics for certain ethnicities of skin, as to not cause further inflammation or pigmentation. Some peels feel like little bites or pings, while other feel fire-y hot for several minutes, and yet others – while very effective – have little or no sensation to speak of although they are very active. There are peels for most skin types and conditions, even sensitive/acneic/or rosacea skin. There are exceptions to every rule: persons who do not heal easily, have certain allergies, are immuno-compromised, those on certain medications and acne treatments, diabetics, etc., may be excluded from having peels due to their physical health status. Only a highly skilled, licensed professional should determine and perform chemical peels after a careful assessment and examination.
Peels can be done year-round, but most series of peels are performed in the cooler months, when there is less sun exposure.
Often I will perform a single peel on a clients. Indications are first-time clients with unknown reactivity, or those of which have very heavily congested (built-up) dead skin where normal exfoliating treatments can’t cut through the mess, or someone needing to open-up and dry-out some mild-to-moderate acne.
Series of Peels
Clients with active acne, lots of dry (not necessarily dehydrated) skin, hyperpigmentation/sun-spots, lots of clogged pores/blackheads, or uneven texture will truly benefit most by a series of peels. Clients with deeper complected skin types should never have one strong peel. The reason is this: the more melanin in the skin, the more likely that skin type is prone to deeper pigmentation – exactly the opposite of what we are trying to correct. When certain skin types get unduly irritated, it creates PIH (Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation).
Series of peels are performed at a spaced number of weeks apart. Estheticians prefer to ‘capture’ the skin as it is turning over – generally in 2-3 week intervals, and do this 4-6 times. This stimulation encourages the skin cells to turn over a little more rapidly as well as compete with the melanin (pigmentation) and lighten and break it up before it rises to the surface. New cells are plump, dewy, light reflective, brighter, and the surface texture and tone can improve greatly. Skin feels softer, acne dries up, blackheads are easier to extract, and the skin is more hydrated. Additionally, your skincare products will work more effectively as they can penetrate better, and your makeup goes on so much more evenly.
Not all pigmentation issues can be ameliorated by chemical peels. It truly depends on the cause, where it is stemming from (the ‘outer’ layers-Epidermis, or the ‘deeper’ layers where the skin is growing – Dermis), and how long you have had it. It is hard to determine in some cases. Lightening and breaking-up pigmentation may take months. That is why a series can be most helpful. Once a stasis or leveling-off is achieved, your esthetician will show you how to slow-down, maintain, and prevent more pigmentation from occurring.
Peels will make you more photo-sensitive while going through the process. You MUST be vigilant and follow your esthetician’s homecare instructions to a T. Sun-tanning and long exposures to the sun are detrimental, as well as alcohol, and extreme heat & exertion (sauna, hot weather, working-out). You will be advised what you can and cannot use on your skin during the process (no home exfoliation/Clarsonic/picking/acne products, etc.). Yes, if you go out in the sun, sunscreen is a must! But, NO chemical sunscreens!Why do you want to bake-in bio-accumulative toxic chemicals?
Many things improve the turn-over process. Topical Vitamin C, at home low-strength glycolic acid treatments, vitamin supplementation, sleep, hydration, professional exfoliations, and specific home care products help a lot.
How Often are Peels Necessary?
Peel frequency varies greatly person-to-person. My recommendations are based on condition, congestion, skin type, home-care, and other factors. Peels can be a great boost when your skin is feeling blah, and looking matte and dull, or your homecare products are not seeming as effective. Series are not recommended to have over and over. Once or twice in a year at most; and again, only for specific conditions such as serious acne and pigmentation issues.
Can Microdermabrasion be Performed Along with Peels – Doesn’t it do the Same Thing?
In my ever so humble, but outspoken opinion – Never. They work differently. Microdermabrasion is not as effective as peels when it comes to deeper issues, and it may cause extreme dermal inflammation which can excerbate more pigmentation; AND the suction can break capillaries. Microdermabrasion crystals under the microscope look like sharp, tiny razor blades and cause microscopic cuts in the skin. Microdermabrasion cannot reach into the tiny rhytids (wrinkles), and get into the little valleys of the skin.
Will I Peel a lot or a Little?
Honestly, you may not even peel visibly at all, especially if your skin is very congested, oily, or thick. You might peel a lot (fuzzy/tissue-y/ashy flakes), or you may just have a few dry or peel-y areas. It all depends on your skin, what type of peel used, how often it has been applied (as in a series), and how you are maintaining it at home. Sometimes, the first peel only makes your skin feel a little tight or irritated the next day. Subsequent peels stimulate the turn-over process and they may make you peel much more each time.
How Do I Know What Peel I Need, and How Often Should I Get One?
Clients who have had peels in the recent past and know why type they had, generally know when their skin is in need of one. Those of you who never received a peel or series of peels, must put that decision in the hands of a licensed, trained professional. Never have a peel if you or your practitioner cannot explain to you the reasons why, what to expect, or if there is any uncertainty. Also, if you are not willing to comply with the post-peel homecare, then a peel is not for you.
What Results Can I Expect?
Everyone is DIFFERENT. Skin condition, health, age, ethnicity, and many other factors come into play. The first obvious benefits are improved texture, softness, and and a smoother topography of skin is felt. Secondarily, pigmentation breaks-down, and tone is improved. Small lines and wrinkles have an improved appearance; acne dries-up and blackheads/plugs come out much easier, and the skin glows because newer, healthier, dewy skin cells have replaced the dry, dull matte ones.
Okay, but Do They Hurt? Will I Have to Stay Home for a Few Days?
Some (temporarily) sting/ping/itch wickedly for several minutes, some are very hot for a few minutes – others… well, people ask “did you really put an acid on my face?” It depends on how many you have done, the type, strength, how long it is left on, and the pH. No, generally no one goes home looking like a beet. I ALWAYS soothe, cool, and calm your skin post-peel, so you go home feeling comfortable.
Some areas may get irritated, especially around the sides of the nose or upper cheekbones, and flake/peel/get a tiny bit cracked or a little puffy. But, you can certainly go to work, wear makeup, and continue in your day-to-day routine. Just be aware of the aforementioned restrictions and proper homecare. Sure, you may get flaky. Moisturize over it as necessary, but NEVER, EVER peel it, pick it, tweeze it, or scrub the flakes off! They will shed naturally, and are still CONNECTED TO LIVE tissue while shedding. You may experience a little blotchy discoloration for a few days until the shedding completes. Dead, yukky tissue is darker, and some areas shed before others. The beautiful skin underneath is worth the temporary inconveniences.
DO I (Nancy) USE PEELS ON MYSELF?
Absolutely I do! Year-round. Without them I would be broken out, super-oily, and have bumpy textured skin. One day I will post before, during, and after pictures of myself. Many times I have done peels and no one ever realizes it. I do a few tweaks with my makeup during the process. Now that I have the skin microscope and LED screen, I can really appreciate how my pores are cleaner, clearer, and I have less pigmentation. I’m not exempt from skin problems.