Chemical peels are the viral skincare trend that’s sweeping the nation. It turns out that they’re doing a lot more damage than good though. Read on to find out what chemical peels are, the serious risks associated, and healthy alternative treatments.
What Are Chemical Face Peels?
Chemical facial peels, or chemical exfoliation, are a group of resurfacing procedures, that have been popular since the ’60s. Chemical peels use acid to carry out a controlled break down of the top layer or layers of the skin. Applying the acid loosens the bonds which hold skin cells together. This then results in subsequent exfoliation due to the skin cells loosening and breaking off.
After the initial healing process remodelling of the epidermis and/or dermis takes place which leads to improved appearance and texture of the skin. However these perceived benefits are purely aesthetic as the long-term damage being caused to the skin far outweighs the short-term aesthetic benefits.
In recent years, there’s been an increase in those using skin peeling treatments to reverse the physical signs of ageing. Reported benefits include the minimisation of the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone. Deeper chemical peels have also been used to treat scars, pigmentation and certain types of acne.
Chemical peels should always be administered by a board-certified dermatologist, or licensed medical professional.
The 3 Different Types of Chemical Peels
Chemical peels are classified into 3 main categories according to the depth of skin penetration. The depth of penetration is measured by the concentration, pH and type of peeling agent used.
Superficial Chemical Peels
The superficial peel is the mildest of the 3 types. It targets the epidermis, which is the top layer of the skin.
During treatment the health care professional will use a cotton-tipped applicator to apply the chemical solution. For superficial peels this solution typically contains glycolic acid or salicylic acid. You may feel mild stinging during treatment, and skin will start to whiten. The chemical solution will then be removed with a neutralising solution or wash.
As this peel is weaker, regular treatment is needed in order to maintain the effects. For superficial peels, recovery time is usually between 2 and 7 days.
Medium Chemical Peels
Medium peels exfoliate deeper into the skin to penetrate the next 2 layers.
The application process is similar to the superficial peel but this chemical solution usually contains trichloroacetic acid, sometimes in combination with glycolic acid. These acids are of a higher concentration than those used in the superficial peel.
After the chemical application, cool compresses are usually applied to soothe treated skin. You may feel a stinging or burning sensation for around 20 minutes after the treatment.
Medium-depth peels are usually performed as one-off procedures.
Deep Chemical Peels
The strongest of the peels, deep peels should be done no more than once or twice in a lifetime.
For the treatment you’ll be given IV fluids and your heart rate will be monitored closely. Carbolic acid (phenol) will be applied to the skin. As a result of the strength of the phenol, the procedure will likely take place in portions with 15-minute intervals. This is to limit your acid exposure. A full-facial procedure can take around 90 minutes.
The Initial Risks and Side Effects of Medium and Deep Facial Peels
Due to the acid application, patients are required to take time off work to recover.
For medium peels recovery time can last for between 1 and 2 weeks, but redness can last for a month. Patients are also unable to return to work for 1 week. After treatment skin will be red, swollen and will sting. As swelling decreases, treated skin will form a crust, and in some cases patches of skin may darken.
After a deep chemical peel, there will be severe redness and swelling, as well as burning and throbbing. Your eyelids may also swell shut and a doctor will apply a surgical dressing to the treated skin.
Deep peels require several follow up visits to the doctor, as well as soaking the treated skin and applying ointment several times a day for at least 2 weeks.
Treated skin may lose the ability to tan and may become lighter or darker than other areas.
Both medium and deep facial peels leave the skin susceptible to bacterial, viral and fungal infections.
The Serious Risks of Chemical Peels
As it appears as though you’re getting instant results due to the initial softening, smoothing, tightening and lifting of the skin, patients believe peels to be an effective treatment. However serial use of medium or deep peels can cause serious and irreversible skin damage.
Medium and deep chemical peels can lead to premature skin ageing. Regular use thins the skin and causes it to sag which makes patients look much older.
The deeper down that you exfoliate the skin, the more damage you are causing. When you get so far down to the dermis, you get past your stem cell layer and reach the skin’s collagen supplies. Penetrating this deep causes damage to the skin’s collagen. This temporarily increases collagen production leading to temporary aesthetic benefits, but in the long run the damage far outweighs the benefits.
Due to the severe nature of the treatments, the skin is also left highly vulnerable to free radicals, toxins and pollutants from anywhere between 7 days to a month. When skin is left that vulnerable it doesn’t always repair to the same level again.
Skin is also left highly sensitive to UV damage, which can increase the visible signs of ageing and in severe cases lead to skin conditions including cancer.
It’s also more susceptible to damage from toxins such as alcohol or smoking. In its damaged state the skin cannot defend itself against these external sources.
Patients with deeper skin tones are also at a particularly higher risk. The risk of postinflmamatory/post-peel hyperpigmentation increased significantly. When treating Black, Asian, Hispanic/Latino skin tones, deep peels should be avoided and an emphasis should be placed on preoperative preparation.¹
Major complications have also been reported to include significant scarring, dyspigmentation, allergic reactions, airway obstruction caused by swelling, toxic shock syndrome, cardiotoxicity, and corneal damage.²
Alternative Treatment To Medium + Deep Facial Peels
Dermoi recommend the PCA skin signature peel as the only safe and effective peel. This superficial peel will not go past the base layer of the epidermis and resultantly will not cause deep internal damage to the skin. The aesthetic benefits of the skin are also not compromised.
PCA skin are widely believed to be the gold standard of medical peel. They are recognised in leading medical journals for their progressive not aggressive approach.
The PCA peel contains mandelic acid, which is excellent for treating pigmentation issues, and lactic acid, which is a natural moisturising factor in the skin.
Instead of exfoliating deeper into the skin to get enhanced resurfacing there is an optional retinoid booster which will provide additional resurfacing. The retinoid booster provides all the same benefits as the penetrative peels without the damage. It also helps to repair skin barrier, calm skin, stimulate collagen production and is also an antioxidant.
With patented OmniSome technology the retinoid booster is released into your skin over a ten hour period. After the peel, you’re repairing skin for at least 10 hours after.
The downtime for the PCA peel is also only 2-4 days.
For more details and how to book this facial peel in London click here.
Author: Sam Pennington
- Castillo, D. and Keri, J., 2018. Chemical peels in the treatment of acne: patient selection and perspectives. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, Volume 11, pp.365-372.
- O’Connor, A., Lowe, P., Shumack, S. and Lim, A., 2017. Chemical peels: A review of current practice. Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 59(3), pp.171-181.