Do you remember the infamous Sex and the City episode where Samantha gets a chemical peel and the results were nothing less than a severe burn followed by layers upon layers of skin falling off?
Allow us a moment to clear something up: not all chemical peels leave you looking like a burn victim, having to deal with a situation like Samantha over the ensuing few weeks. In fact, deep peels like she had are rarely performed these days due to the long downtime and risk of complications; this is especially so in our darker Asian skin types. Instead, the current trend is to get a series of milder chemical peels that will still give you great end-results, whilst minimizing the downtime so you wouldn’t end up looking and feeling the way Samantha did. Here are a couple of important facts about this often misunderstood, albeit time tested skin remedy.
What is Chemical Peeling?
Chemical peeling is a skin treatment that uses an acidic solution to remove a superficial layer of skin. As the outermost layers of damaged skin get taken away, the underlying skin is revealed which looks healthier and more radiant. Over a period of time, new collagen is laid down in the deeper skin levels, resulting in firmer skin tone, and fewer wrinkles.
What are the different kinds of peels?
The most commonly used chemicals for peeling include:
- Alphahydroxy Acids (AHA): This is also often referred to as the “fruit acids”. The five main fruit acids are citric acid (from citrus fruits), glycolic (from sugar cane), lactic (although derived from milk, this is still considered a fruit acid), malic (from apples), and tartaric acid (from grapes). AHAs are best used for treating mild skin problems such as dryness, small pimples and minor sun damage. A number of skin care products contain very low concentrations of AHAs that can be used on a daily basis to help improve skin texture and tone.
- Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA): Salicylic Acid is the most common BHA peeling agent. The main difference between AHAs and BHAs lies is in its fat solubility; BHAs are fat soluble whereas AHAs are water soluble. The fat soluble nature of BHAs allows them to penetrate into the skin pore and exfoliate the cells lining the pore. This property makes them great for treating oily, acne-prone skin with lots of blackheads and whiteheads
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA): Depending on its concentration (between 20-50%), this can be used as a superficial to medium depth peeling agent. Compared to AHAs and BHAs, you get greater exfoliation and skin peeling effects following an application of TCA. This makes it better at treating more significant skin problems such as moderate degrees of sun damage, pigmentary conditions e.g. sunspots, freckles and melasma, acne and acne scarring.
What happens during a peel?
The skin is thoroughly cleansed to remove make-up and surface impurities. A degreasing agent is also used to remove the remaining oil from the skin and ensure an even peel.
The appropriate peeling solution is then carefully applied onto the skin. What happens subsequently depends on the peeling agent used. For instance, if glycolic acid is used, the procedure is closely timed to allow it to be left on the skin for between 3 to 5 minutes. Conversely if TCA is used, your doctor applies the chemical and carefully observes until whitening or “frosting” of the skin occurs. During this time, your skin will feel hot and may even sting slightly as the chemical does its work.
The procedure is ceased either by application of a neutralizing agent (as for glycolic acid) or by diluting the chemical with water whilst still on the skin.
How about after the procedure?
Again this very much depends on the peeling agent used. The skin may be red for several hours after a glycolic acid peel, however there is usually not much swelling or excessive skin peeling. Following a TCA peel, the redness is more intense and flaking-off of the skin occurs over the next 3 to 5 days.
How soon can I see the results?
For glycolic acid peels, you can notice a more radiant complexion after 2-3 peels. For TCA peels, superficial pigmented lesions will be seen to lighten after the skin exfoliates.
Skin texture, fine lines, scars and wrinkles usually improve a few months after repeated peels.