Updated: Apr 2
We've been trained to believe the word 'chemical' is a bad word. But what does it really mean?
The definition of a chemical is a compound that has been artificially prepared or purified. So when it comes to a 'chemical peel', we are generally referring to a natural substance that has been purified for its skin benefits.
So, what are chemical peels, and importantly – are they a friend or a foe?
Certainly a friend; likely to be your new best friend.
Simply put, a chemical peel is an exfoliant. Yet, rather than the traditional gritty creams and cleansers that are physically abrasive, a chemical peel is designed to just lift oil and debris (including dead skin cells) from the skin, which in turn helps to regulate oil production and increases hydration.
Chemical peels can be categorised into different categories, such as AHA's, BHA's, Retinol and combination.
AHA's – Alpha Hydroxy Acid's – dissolve dead skin cells by breaking down the 'glue' that holds them down. They can be created using a plethora of natural acids such as mandelic acid (derived from almonds), lactic acid (derived from milk), or glycolic acid (derived from sugarcane). By removing the dead skin build-up, your 'new skin' can be revealed evenly and will have a chance to dispose of toxins and absorb hydration more effectively.
BHAs' - Beta Hydroxy Acid's – generally derived from salicylic acid (or willow extract) to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin to break down blockages within the pores. BHA peels are also anti-inflammatory, so they tend to reduce redness in the skin. If you're prone to acne or blackheads, BHA is the way to go.
There are also compounded or combined peels which may use other forms of acids. Examples are: Vitamin A (Retinol), TCA peels, Jessner Peels, and the Cosmelan Depigmentation peel.
Your skin cells replace themselves within a 4 week cycle, but each cell is at a different stage in the cycle. At any given time, your skin is made up of some new cells and some old cells. As we age, the skin cell turnover slows, so we end up with more old (oxidised) cells, and the new cells take longer to come to the surface. The purpose of a chemical peel is to remove the build up of dead skin cells (and other impurities) to reveal more of the new cells all at once, creating a more even complexion and stimulating more new cells to be produced.
Who can have a Chemical Peel?
Anyone can try a Chemical Peel! The type of peel recommended will depend on your current skin condition, but your Skin Therapist will advise you on the day so that you can make the best decision for you. Sometimes if your skin is dry and flaky, a preparation treatment will be recommended before working up to doing a peel. People with oily, thick skin benefit the most from a peel.
What does it feel like?
Some people might experience a 'spicy' tingling feeling with specific peels, or when the peel is 'neutralised' at the end of the treatment. But this feeling is over within seconds. A lot of people experience no discomfort from having a peel. It may feel like it never happened!
Is there any downtime?
Immediately following your treatment, you skin may look flushed or you may have areas of 'frosting' (patches that look like ice crystals). This will subside on its own within a few hours.
There is no immediate 'shedding'. The actual 'peeling' process commences around 48 hours post-treatment. Just prior to shedding, your skin will feel tight and dry and may look crepe-y.
Most people find that their skin has recovered in 7-14 days (10 days on average). Follow your aftercare instructions to best look after your skin during this time.
Most peels stimulate a mild sunburn-like response from the skin (redness, dryness and flaking) and you will need to care for your skin in a similar fashion. Do not pick at the skin! Pulling off the peeling skin before the new skin underneath is ready will leave you feeling sensitive. Trust the process and allow the skin to do its job.
For the first 3 days (minimum) only use products suitable for post-treatment such as a PH balanced cleanser, post-treatment hydration serums / moisturisers, and sunscreen. You can wear makeup (although mineral makeup is best) about 48 hours post-peel. When the shedding begins, wearing makeup may become more difficult as the makeup may not sit evenly on the skin. As a result, we recommend allowing a minimum of 2 weeks between your peel and any important event that you need to attend.
For up to 14 days you will need to avoid sun exposure, excessive sweating and active skincare products (containing Vitamin C or Vitamin A) to ensure that you don't aggravate the new skin coming through.
I didn't peel, is that normal?
Many people don't have visible peeling following a treatment; it all depends on the type of peel and your skin condition at the time of treatment. But just because you couldn't see the skin shedding doesn't mean it wasn't an effective treatment. A faster shed (within a couple of days of treatment) will be more noticeable, but sometimes your skin sheds slowly over a number of days and you will barely notice. Sometimes people will have a 'second shedding' a few days after the first. The result (after about 10 days) should be the same, regardless of how much visible shedding occurred.
For maintenance between peels, you can use a cleanser or mask that contains a chemical compound (such as a smaller concentrate of AHA or BHA) to keep the skin cells turning over at an effective rate. This is in replacement of a textured exfoliant. Your Skin Therapist can advise you on which may be best for your skin. Otherwise you can alternate between peels and other treatments that are suited to your skin on a monthly basis.
Skin clarity is the ideal outcome from undergoing a chemical peel. A chemical peel stimulates cell turnover so that your 'new skin' can perform at its peak without interruption. Peels can be used to treat: acne, blocked pores, overreactive oil glands, dry skin build-up, scarring, pigmentation, fine lines, loss of elasticity.
In a nutshell, chemical peels don't have to be so scary! They don't strip the skin in the way that their name leads you to believe and can be extremely beneficial for skin health. If you are not sure whether a chemical peel is right for you, book a free consultation with one of our Skin Therapists.