Skin Peels: what exactly is a chemical skin peel & is it for you?

Jade Shelden, from the Norfolk Skin Atelier, has written this third post for her series on Skincare for older women. As always it is detailed and informative and well-worth reading especially if you are considering a skin peel.

FROM POST: Skin Peels: what exactly is a chemical skin peel & is it for you?

It’s that time of year, when the temperature drops and sun exposure is minimal. For that reason I see a lot of skin clinics pushing the promotion of it being ‘Peel Season’. This being because the risks of adverse reactions from sun exposure are minimal. But is a chemical peel for you?

What exactly is a chemical peel?

A chemical peel being applied

A chemical peel can be either a single acid or a blend of acids applied to the skin to lower the skins ph to a more acidic level. Depending on the ph level of the acid (not the percentage), the keratin bonds that hold the skin cells together dissolve at different depths, leaving the skin cells with nothing to hold them to the skin, and so they shed from the surface of the skin. The skin is a constant self renewing organ so any time a cycle of cells leaves the surface of the skin a message is sent for a new fresh batch of cells to be created at the basal layer of the epidermis (the top layer of the skin)
In a nutshell a chemical peel is a form of exfoliation.

Who is a chemical peel for?

A chemical peel is recommended for skin conditions that have any of the following:

  • Slowed cell turnover (a factor of ageing)
  • Build up of dead skin cells causing dull, lifeless looking
  • Pigmentation
  • Congested skin – specific blends of acids

What types of peels are there?

From post: Skin Peels: what exactly is a chemical skin peel & is it for you?

As a skincare professional it can be overwhelming the amount of chemical peels that are available to stock and supply to clients. It is important to understand the lower the ph level of the peel is what makes it stronger, not the percentage. These are the most common acids used in clinic and what they are best used for:

Lactic Acid – the most gentle and superficial form of acid peel. It is great for drawing hydration to the upper layers of the skin giving a brighter and plumper appearance with minimal cell shedding. Best for reactive skins, signs of ageing, rosacea skins and as a more frequent treatment. It’s is unlikely you would experience any physical peeling from a lactic acid.

Glycolic acid – from the same family as Lactic acid but with a slightly lower ph level, giving a deeper exfoliation. Recommended for a photo damaged skin, pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Depending on ph level and time left on the skin you may experience a slight peeling of the skin 3-5 days post treatment. 

Salicylic acid – an oil loving acid meaning it is drawn to the oil in the hair follicles causing a shedding of blocked follicles. Best suited for congested  and acne prone skins. Depending on time left on the skin may cause peeling 3-5 days post treatment.

Mandelic Acid – this is a gentle melanin inhibiting acid meaning it is best suited for those with darker skin types or pigmented skins. It is unusual that you would experience any peeling from this kind of acid. 

Modified Jesner Peel – a blend of acids that penetrate deeper into the skin causing a much deeper penetration. There will most likely be 10-14 days of peeling from this kind of peel. 

TCA – one of the strongest forms of chemical peels often prescribed for severely photo damaged skin. Some people experience up to a month of skin peeling after this treatment. Caution: The deeper the exfoliation the higher the risks of adverse events such as hyperpigmentation.

How long do results last?

What we need to remember is the skin is a self renewing organ, and a chemical peel is a form of exfoliation. So the results of one chemical peel can be seen until the next cell cycle surfaces, every 28-72 days depending on the skin’s health and age. 

My top tips when considering a chemical peel:

1. Less is more. Skin cell shedding is a natural process, but deep exfoliations causing skin cells that aren’t ready to shed can be detrimental to the skin. I much prefer using lighter peels like Lactic acid more frequently (once every 4-6 weeks) then deeper peels once or twice a year. 

2. Know what to expect. If you are looking for a temporary brighter, smoother looking skin then a peel is a great solution. If you are looking for more long standing results or something that is going to tighten the skin and increase collagen then I would suggest looking more at SkinPen Collagen Induction therapy or Radio Frequency as a preferred treatment method. I often include a mild peel as part of my bespoke facials, rarely will I do one as a stand alone treatment. 

3. Leave it to the professionals. I see a lot of at home acid products, daily tonics etc. Daily altering of the ph levels of the skin can cause damage and a breakdown of our skin’s natural barrier. This can lead to trans-epidermal water loss, reactivity and redness. At home peels can be great maintenance to professional treatments but should be used sparingly (1-4 times a month) and always followed with restorative and protective skincare such as SPF. 

4. Always understand the reason why you are having a particular kind of treatment and follow professional advice. Remember that the skin sheds by itself naturally. If there isn’t enough free water levels in the epidermal layers it prevents the cells shedding, hence why people think they need a chemical peel. It’s worth thinking about the root cause (low free water levels) and improving that to allow the skin to constantly be able to shed all by itself. 

To read Jade Shelden’s earlier posts click HERE.