Understanding Acid Peels

by Charlotte Wood
(last updated May 23, 2016)

You've probably heard the term "chemical peel" before, but you might not know what it means. It might even sound kind of scary! Once you know what chemical (or acid) peels are, then you'll be able to make an educated decision on whether or not acid peels are right for you. Chemical peels have their pros and cons, and you need to approach them with a certain degree of caution and knowledge.

Chemical peels, in definition, are simple to understand. It's essentially the removal of the top layer of skin through chemical means, leaving the new layer of skin smoother and with fewer wrinkles. It's a regenerative idea, and one that can work, but can also harm your skin. There is a variety of chemical peels, which include alpha and beta hydroxy acid peels, Jessner's peels, and trichloroacetic acid peels.

Alpha hydroxy peels use naturally occurring carboxylic acids like glycolic acid. This peel is the mildest of the chemical peels, effecting fewer and less deep fine wrinkles, treatment of dryness, acne, and uneven pigmentation. Something unique about alpha hydroxy peels is that they can be combined with your regular cleanser. Beta hydroxy peels are becoming more common, starting to replace the alpha peels as the most often used. Beta peels work better with controlling oils and removing more dead skin cells.

Jessner's peels combine salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol to break intracellular bridges between keratinocytes. Trichlotoacetic acid peels are a more intermediate level of chemical peel and are considered to be a deeper type of peel, peeling all the way into the reticular dermis. This is one that should be used with caution and reserve because of its generally abrasive nature and potential for causing significant scarring if not used correctly. These peels work on smoothing fine wrinkles, removing superficial blemishes, correcting skin pigmentation, and they work best on darker skinned patients. Points to keep in mind about trichloroacetic acid peels are that they may require a pre-treatment, may require repeated treatments for full effectiveness mandate the stringent use of sunscreen, will take several days to recover, and the risk of scarring.

So, now you know the basics behind acid peels, you can better decide if that's what you want to do. If you need another, more specialized opinion, you should see a dermatologist. Work with your dermatologist to decide whether acid peels will be healthy for you and your skin, and always use caution when doing any kind of procedure like this one.

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