A chemical peel is a rejuvenation treatment that is designed to remove some of the signs of aging from facial skin. Last year, over 1 million peels were performed in the U.S. alone. Despite the competition introduced by laser technology, the number of patients seeking this treatment is almost as high now as in 2000. However, the accuracy and depth of treatment tends to be easier to control with lasers than with the application of a chemical solution. In addition, patients do not require general anesthesia to undergo laser skin rejuvenation as they do with a deep peel. So, most chemical peels these days are performed to treat the upper layers of the skin. This is an outpatient procedure that only corrects minor imperfections.
Light Chemical Peels
An acid peel can be performed at home using a gentle, over the counter formula at low concentrations. Or, it can be done in a dermatologist’s office or a spa with a slightly stronger solution (up to 30%). There are two main categories of acid used in these treatments. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid are naturally occurring chemicals found in plant and animal products. These acids are water soluble and penetrate just the top layer of dead skin, detaching it from the healthy skin beneath so the damaged cells can be rinsed away. Mild irritation, redness, and dryness may result from this treatment and last for a couple of days.
Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are often synthetic and include such well known chemicals as salicylic acid – the active ingredient in many topical acne therapies. In higher concentrations, this acid acts as a chemical peel. BHAs are soluble in both oil and water. This makes them a preferred formula for oily skin since the solution has an easier time penetrating deep into the clogged pores. Redness and post-treatment irritation are somewhat less frequent with BHA peels as opposed to AHA peels because the beta hydroxy acid has mild anti-inflammatory properties.
Additional Treatment Details
With both types of chemical peel, the treatment lasts 20 minutes or less. No bandaging or antibiotics are required after a gentle peel because the skin damage is minimal. Serious complications are very rare. However, because the treatment is so light it usually takes several sessions for patients to see a noticeable difference in their skin. Also, the use of a high level SPF sunscreen is mandatory for 2-3 months after each session; the acid treatment makes the skin photosensitive. Unwanted pigment changes may occur with unprotected sun exposure.