Chemical peels have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Once a strictly medical procedure, peels entered the beauty industry in the 1980s as a way to rejuvenate aging skin, smooth lines, even out skin tone, fade dark spots, minimize enlarged pores, improve acne, and generally promote healthier skin.
Technically speaking, the peels offered in spas and salons across the country aren’t really peels, but are a kind of resurfacing that many refer to as chemical exfoliation. Deeper peels are considered medical procedures because of how deeply they penetrate skin and are done by medical care providers. These peels use much more potent chemicals and are substantially more expensive, costing several hundred dollars.
Chemical exfoliation, a treatment you can receive from your esthetician, involves applying one or more acids to facial skin to remove the outermost layer. In general, chemical exfoliation involves the use of alpha hydroxy acids, which are naturally found in foods. The most common are glycolic acid that is derived from sugar cane, and lactic acid from sour milk. These acids have a long track record of treating dry skin and hyperpigmentation, and of reversing the effects of aging. Another frequently used substance is salicylic acid. Derived from the bark of the willow tree, it is an oil-grabber that helps unclog pores.
After a chemical exfoliation, you must take good care of your skin or risk developing dark patches. Skin will be especially sensitive to sunburn for about a week after the peel, so sunscreen is a must, even on cloudy days. Other potential side effects include flaking or scabbing.
Not everyone is a good candidate for chemical exfoliation. Dark-skinned and olive-toned individuals are at greater risk for scarring. Some medications and medical conditions, like pregnancy or autoimmune disorders, may preclude you from this treatment.