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Beyond Skin Deep: Professional Peels That Tone, Improve, and Treat

Jan 25, 2017 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Lisa J. Gotto

Benefits of peels include:

Reduction of pore size, fine lines and wrinkles, stimulation of collagen and elastin production, color and hyperpigmentation correction, reduction in blemish prone conditions, reduction in redness and rosacea-prone skin and overall health of the skin, which essentially produces the cosmetic result.

Now don’t be tempted to confuse our topic with your favorite drugstore-sourced facial mask that you do at home on “beauty night.” In this article we’re going to explore the world of chemical facial peels. From pore cleansing, to skin lightening, and anti-aging, there is an extensive menu of peels that are truly beyond skin deep.

The primary ingredients in peels are acids, including some types that may sound familiar like salicylic, and others that don’t, like phytic acid. Additional ingredients found in peels include resorcinol, a peeling agent with anti-inflammatory properties, and retinol solution, which aids in exfoliation.

While you can find some of the above-mentioned ingredients in do-it-yourself level doses and formulations at beauty retailers, for the purposes of this story we are discussing only the types of peels administered by a qualified clinician or physician.

The Terminology

Before we explore what happens when you get a peel, we’ll take a minute to understand the language associated with peels because there are different types and within these types there are different levels. The term “chemical peel” is used to describe a broad category.

Within this category there are medical-grade chemical peels, which are performed by a medical aesthetician in a physician’s office, and there are spa-grade chemical peels, which are usually performed by an aesthetician—often in a spa or spa-like setting. Medical-grade chemical peels have stronger solution percentages, which could be compared to a prescription verses a spa-grade chemical peel that could be compared to over-the-counter.

One of the current buzzwords in cosmetic product development is customization. Peels are a perfect example of how customization works to provide you with better looking skin.

“With the wide range of conditions, the ingredient lists are numerous. Different acids in different percentages produce different results because the molecule is different and that affects the penetration and strength of the peel,” explains Kathleen Staffini, L.E. of Chesapeake Plastic Surgery in Annapolis.

“Peels are not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and effective consultations are the key to success and mitigating adverse reactions.” Staffini adds that the science behind peels continues to evolve, as different plant-based chemicals are being combined with standard alpha-hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, retinoids, and TCA (trichloroacetic acid). Common acids used in peels and their derivative bases are: glycolic (sugar cane), phytic (rice bran), lactic (sour milk), azelaic (wheat, rye, and barley), mandelic (bitter almond), and salicylic (willow bark).

Benefits of peels include: reduction of pore size, fine lines and wrinkles, stimulation of collagen and elastin production, color and hyperpigmentation correction, reduction in blemish prone conditions, reduction in redness and rosacea-prone skin and overall health of the skin, which essentially produces the cosmetic result.

So what actually happens when you are getting a peel?

“Chemical peels produce controlled injury to the skin that tells the body to stimulate its natural healing response by sending growth factors to the area signaling the body to produce new collagen and elastin,” says Halley Smith, a medical esthetician with Effective MedSpa & Wellness Center in Gambrills. “The dead outer layer skin cells sheds away which promotes the growth of new skin with an improved appearance.”

Before and After the Peel

Before you can have a peel you will be evaluated to determine whether you have any disqualifying health issues such as active cold sores, sunburn, very sensitive skin, a history of rashes and/or dermatitis, used Accutane within the last year, suffer from Vitiligo, or have recently undergone chemotherapy and/or radiation. A clinician will also want to know if you have used retinol within a certain time frame, are allergic to aspirin, have been recently waxed in the treatment area, and if you are planning any beach time over the next several weeks.

And as the name accurately conveys, after your peel, you will likely do just that. The degree to which your skin flakes or peels can differ from person-to-person and treatment-to-treatment, and you can expect your face to be red and feel irritated for period of time afterward.

“The day following your peel you may notice your skin is very tight and your pores are small, the third day is when you may notice your skin is starting to “crack” and peel. There are times when you might not get a lot of peeling such as: this isn’t your first peel, you use exfoliating products on a daily bases such as Retin A or retinol-based products, or when your skin is thicker,” Smith says.

Peeling is a side effect caused by buildup of dead skin that the chemical has to go through to get to the deeper layers of the skin to cause the “controlled” trauma and activate the body’s natural healing process.

“Even if you don’t get a lot of peeling, the body is still working from the inside out to repair and rebuild,” Smith adds.

It’s not just about fine lines and wrinkles, either. Certain peels specifically treat chronic cosmetic skin conditions like rosacea and skin pigmentation issues like Melasma.


Facing the Future

While peels have been a valuable tool of physicians and estheticians for decades, continued advances in their delivery could further enhance their benefits.

“Our newest peel is the TCA peel, which we use in conjunction with the 36-needle Collagen P.I.N. MicroNeedling treatment,” Smith explains. “The TCA peel is only safe for skin types 1 through 3 (per the Fitzpatrick Scale) because the peel contains Phenol which can cause hypopigmentation, a “bleaching” of the skin or white spots. When using it after the micro-needling treatment, the TCA is able to penetrate directly into the skin because of the micro-channels the collagen P.I.N. has created.”

“This is great because now the peel is delivered right into the skin, rather than lying on top of the skin waiting for it to penetrate, resulting in less surface irritation and more effective results.

Most Popular Peels:

  • Lactic Acid: One of the gentlest chemical peels and it is good for even the most sensitive skin. This type of acid is perfect for brightening dull skin.
  • Glycolic Acid: Glycolic acid is used for acne treatments, as well as, anti-aging treatments.
  • Salicylic: A salicylic acid peel is ideal for anyone suffering from acne, blackheads, large pores, and pimples. 
  • TCA: Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels are considered medium-depth peels, more aggressive, producing stronger results.
Provided by Sullivan Surgery and Spa, Annapolis

ACIDS: What They Treat

  • Glycolic: acne
  • Phytic: skin-lightening properties Lactic: skin exfoliator
  • Azelaic: rosacea and severe acne
  • Mandelic: acne, age spots, discoloration, wrinkles
  • Salicylic: acne, clogged pores, oily skin

Want to know if your skin type is right for the TCA peel plus micro-needling? Learn more about the five basic skin types and where you fall on the “Fitzpatrick Scale” here.

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