Skin Quality: What’s the Value of a Chemical Peel?

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Chemical peels are the second most frequently performed aesthetic procedure in the U.S. A chemical peel improves both the appearance and the health of your skin. There are many variations in what chemical agent is used, but  all peels involve the application of a solution that removes the upper layers of skin. The skin surface has more sun damage and more cells that are older. The damaged skin starts to separate from the deeper layer and peels off in a few days or weeks, depending on the depth of the peel. The resurfacing process takes advantage of the body's healing capacity as fresh new skin from the deep layer replaces older damaged skin.

Light peels can be done by a cosmetician, but medium or deep peels require medical supervision.

Superficial peeling is repetitive. It might involve 3-5 peels over a 6 month period. These are the so-called "lunch time peels."  The most commonly used peeling agent in this category is glycolic acid. After these the skin is brighter and some superficial skin growths can be removed. It is a subtle rejuvenescence. It is not particularly helpful for fine lines and pigmentation.

A medium peel creates brighter skin and can have greater effect on fine lines. TCA (trichloroacetic acid), salicylic acid  and Jessner's solution are some of the commonly used agents for a medium peel. It can help to make more even coloring  by removing some of the darkened spots and mottling. Medium peels usually have 2-3 days of inflammation followed by peeling over 7-10 days. Medium peels can be helpful for removing the damaged upper layers of skin so that the skin not only looks better but is also cleared of new growths. Skin health is improved by removing some "at risk" cells that could be the precursors of skin cancer.

Deep peels are very selectively used for problem areas, like acne scarring. A peel that is too deep can overly bleach the color of skin and leave the texture leathery. They have largely been abandoned as a cosmetic procedure across the entire surface of the face. 

Chemical peels  remain the most frequently used, most versatile and efficacious way of resurfacing skin. As lasers, light therapies, and other devices fail to live up to their marketing claims, chemical peels are showing their usefulness both for the quality of skin appearance and for preventive maintenance of sun damaged areas.

Article by
Seattle Plastic Surgeon