Blog Post

What Is a Chemical Peel?

Chemical peels have become an increasingly popular cosmetic procedure in recent years. According to a report published by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), approximately 1.38 million chemical peels were performed 2018 — up 1% from the year prior. Based on these figures, it was third-most popular minimally invasive chemical procedure in 2018, surpassed only by soft tissue fillers and BOTOX, respectively. Even with its newfound popularity, though, many people are unfamiliar with chemical peels and how they work.  So, what is a chemical peel exactly?

Overview of Chemical Peels

A chemical peel is a minimally invasive cosmetic procedure that involves the application of one or more chemicals to remove skin cells on the outer layer of the skin. It’s called a “chemical peel” because it causes your skin to peel. After the chemical solution has been applied — typically on the face, neck or hands — your outer layer of skin on the targeted area of your body will begin to peel off. When this occurs, your body will produce new skin cells to replace the old skin cells, resulting in smoother and more youthful-looking skin.

As you may know, the skin is comprised of three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. Consisting of fat and connective tissue, the hypodermis is the deepest layer of skin. Above the hypodermis is the dermis, which consists of connective tissue, hair follicles and sweat glands. The outermost layer of skin is the epidermis. It acts as a barrier to protect against germs, environmental pollutants and physical injury. During a chemical peel procedure, a chemical solution will be applied to your epidermis, which causes some of the skin cells in this layer to peel off.

Our bodies constantly shed old skin cells while replacing them with new skin cells. In a typical day, the average person will shed nearly 1 million dead skin cells. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for many of these dead skin cells to remain stuck on the skin. When this occurs, they’ll clog your pores while contributing to acne and other related skin problems. Chemicals peels are designed to eliminate dead skin cells to protect against common skin conditions and improve the overall appearance of your skin. The chemical solution will cause your epidermis to “shed” its skin cells. As the dead skin cells fall off, your body will replace them with new skin cells.

You might be surprised to learn that chemical peels have been around for over a century. The procedure was invented in the latter half of the 19th century by professional Austrian dermatologist Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra. He discovered that using exfoliating agents with cautious chemicals was an effective way to minimize the appearance of freckles as well as other skin problems. While Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra is largely known for invented chemical peels, he also played a key role in developing modern dermatology.

The Different Types of Chemical Peels

All chemical peels are designed to remove skin cells on the outer layer of the skin. There are several different types of chemical peels, however, each of which involves the use of a different chemical solution.

One of the most common types of chemical peels is alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). Found naturally in carboxylic acids, it’s considered the mildest type of chemical peel. AHAs include fruit acids like citric acid, lactic acid, malic acid and glycolic acid and tartaric acid as well as other types of carboxylic acids. Because of its mild nature, AHA chemical peels cause minimal discomfort when compared to other types of chemical peels, thereby making them a popular choice among men and women alike.

In addition to AHA, beta hydroxy is used as a chemical peel. Beta hydroxy chemical peels often use salicylic acid as the main chemical ingredient. You may recall seeing this same chemical ingredient used in acne medications and products. Salicylic acid acts as both an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. As a result, it’s highly effective at treating acne. It kills the bacteria responsible for acne while also suppressing the inflammatory effects of acne. When used as a chemical peel, salicylic acid is able to penetrate deeper into the skin. This makes beta hydroxy acid peels more effective at removing dead skin cells than their AHA counterparts.

There’s also retinoic acid chemical peels, which is one aggressive types of chemical peels. Retinoic chemical peels penetrate even deeper into the skin than both AHA and hydroxy acid peels. It’s often used to treat scars, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. It’s important to note that retinoic chemical peels take longer to work than other types of chemical peels. The skin typically doesn’t begin peeling until two to three days after the retinoic chemical peel has been performed.

What Are Chemical Peels Used For?

Chemical peels are used to treat a variety of skin conditions. As previously mentioned, they are often used to treat acne. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne is the most common skin condition among men and women in the United States. It’s estimated that roughly 50 million Americans suffer from acne. While acne is most prevalent among young adults, it can affect men and women of all ages. Chemical peels, however, offer a safe and effective way to treat stubborn acne. They neutralize acne-causing bacteria while simultaneously replacing the inflamed and injured skin with new, healthy skin.

Many men and women seek chemical peels to minimize the appearance of scars. A scar, of course, is the result of severely damaged skin. When your skin is severely damaged, your body will develop new collagen fibers in an attempt to mend the injured skin. Although it’s a useful biological process — it protects against further and potentially more severe injury — scars can affect the appearance of your skin. They tend to feature a darker tone and a harder texture than the adjacent skin. Chemicals peels can treat many instances of scarring by promoting the development of new skin cells.

Pigmentation-related conditions are also treated with chemical peels. Hyperpigmentation, for example, is a skin condition that’s characterized by the uneven production of melanin. In other words, people who suffer from hyperpigmentation produce more melanin in some areas of their skin and less melanin in others. The result of this uneven production of melanin is the appearance of dark spots. Chemical peels are designed to treat hyperpigmentation by promoting the even distribution of melanin. It helps to create a more even skin tone with few or no dark spots.

These are just a few skin conditions that are frequently treated with chemical peels. Others include enlarged pores, crow’s feet, age spots, oily skin, melasma and even wrinkles.

How Long Does a Chemical Peel Session Take?

You can rest assured knowing that a chemical peel is a quick and easy procedure. A typical chemical peel session lasts just 20 to 30 minutes. And because it’s a minimally invasive procedure, you’ll be able to return to your daily activities after the procedure is finished.

Whether you’re suffering from acne, scars, hyperpigmentation, age spots or any of the other aforementioned skin conditions, you should consider a chemical peel. It’s a safe and effective solution that can help restore the appearance and health of your skin.

Want to learn more about chemical peels? Request a free consultation with Radiance Medspa today!