3 A Review of The Types of Chemical Peels and Their Uses
4.5 What Is The Difference Between An Over-The-Counter Chemical Peel and a Professional/Medical Chemical Peel?
Chemical peels are beneficial for acne, acne scars, and skin rejuvenation & anti-ageing.
A chemical peel is a method of exfoliating and regenerating the skin using a variety of acidic solutions. Chemical peel solutions can be derived naturally or synthesised in a laboratory.
The chemical solutions dissolve dead skin cells, peeling them off for new skin to grow in their place. This new layer of skin feels smoother to touch and has a radiant glow.
Depending on the strength, chemical peels can help with several skin concerns:
There are a wide variety of chemical solutions used to treat different skin concerns. Broadly categorised into alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), some of these peels are generally safe and superficial, while others that provide moderate to deep peels require neutralising agents and professionally controlled applications.
A BHA derived from the bark of the willow tree and typically used to combat acne. Salicylic acid peels provide superficial peeling, which promotes the shedding of dead skin cells, and penetrates comedones and pores to prevent clogging and neutralises acne-causing bacteria. It also has anti-inflammatory benefits.
Typically available in 5 to 10% concentrations, salicylic acid peels are safe and self-limited; hence, no neutralising agents are required.
An AHA derived from fruit. Glycolic acid peels are used for superficial or medium depth peeling. Glycolic acid possesses bactericidal effects on the acne-causing Propionibacterium acnes. In addition, glycolic acid peels can also improve skin texture, lighten mild pigmentation, minimise fine lines, and are also anti-inflammatory.
Glycolic acids are commercially available at concentrations of up to 10 per cent. With an increase in concentration and exposure time, the glycolic acid’s intensity and depth of penetration also increases. An alkaline solution like baking soda is required to stop the exfoliating effects of glycolic acid peels. In general, glycolic acid peels have a good safety profile.
An AHA made from sour milk, bilberries or cane sugar, lactic acid peels are either employed on its own as a standalone treatment or combined with other peels. On top of its exfoliating capabilities, lactic acid also has skin whitening effects. Lactic acid is a safe peel with very minor side effects.
An aromatic AHA derived from bitter almonds, mandelic acid peels possess antibacterial properties. They exfoliate the skin slower than other acid peels and are usually better tolerated. This is why mandelic acid peels are often used as an alternative to glycolic acid peels.
TCA is a synthetic inorganic compound. Depending on the concentration, TCA can be used for superficial, medium depth, or deep peeling. TCA has the potential to remodel the skin structure, while increasing elastin and collagen production. TCA is used in high concentrations for the treatment of acne scars, or in low concentrations for treating acne.
A superficial peel combining salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol, in an ethanol base. Resorcinol is bactericidal, and also boosts the effectiveness of the former two ingredients.
Created by dermatologist Max Jessner, Jessner’s Solution helps remove the superficial layers of skin, dry out active acne, dislodge blackheads, reduce shallow wrinkling and scarring, help lighten hyperpigmentation and improve the overall appearance and health of sun-damaged, acne prone, ageing skin.
Made by several types of fungus, kojic acid is also a by-product in the fermentation of Japanese rice wine. Kojic acid has skin whitening properties and is usually combined with glycolic acid or other skin lightening agents such as arbutin to increase penetration and efficacy. The Cosmelan depigmentation system uses a combination of kojic acid, arbutin, and other several active ingredients to effectively tackle melasma and other unwanted pigmentation.
Kojic acid is also typically used before and after a chemical peel to prevent and treat post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) amongst acne patients.
First, a consultation with a professional will decide which peel is suitable for your skin concern and skin type.
After your skin is cleansed and primed, a thin layer of the selected chemical solution is applied and left on for a specific period of time, typically for 5 to 10 minutes. You may feel some tingling or warm sensation on your skin during this period as the chemical peel sets to work. The chemical peel is then washed off or neutralised. Thereafter, a recovery cream and/or sunscreen may be applied.
The number of chemical peel sessions you need will depend on your skin concern and condition. It is also important to highlight that results with chemical peels are not permanent, and maintenance sessions may be required.
Chemical peel for acne may require up to 4 or 6 sessions, and up to 12 sessions for acne scars. For mild pigmentation and fine lines, you may need up to 6 chemical peel sessions to see improvements.
There are also certain risks associated with chemical peels such as:
The side effects of superficial to moderate peels include:
These side effects are temporary and will dissipate over time.
Over-the-counter chemical peels and acids are only available in lower concentrations (e.g., up to 10 per cent with glycolic acid). They are also generally only able to tackle very mild skin conditions such as mild acne, or as a gentle home-based exfoliation.
Professional/medical chemical peels are available in relatively higher concentrations (e.g., up to 30 or even 70 per cent!), and are administered by trained professionals such as estheticians/cosmeticians, nurses, or doctors. These peels tackle a wider spectrum of skin concerns including mild to moderate acne, unwanted pigmentation, light acne scars, and fine lines and wrinkles.
Chemical peels are beneficial for any healthy adult looking for a non-invasive way to tackle active acne, mild acne scarring, superficial pigmentations, and fine lines and wrinkles.
Chemical peels may be unsuitable for the following circumstances:
You will be required to share your medical history with the consulting professional, especially those concerning your skin. These include the use of medications like isotretinoin or vitamin A creams. You may be required to temporarily stop the use of such medication or topicals.
[07 Jul 2021] Written by Dr. Wei Xiang
Dr Wei Xiang has been heavily involved in the arts throughout his life. During his formative school years, he studied fine arts under the prestigious Art Elective Programme, where he developed his artistic talent and creative expression across various media, including painting, charcoal, digital media and photography.
After graduating from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in 2014, Wei Xiang pursued postgraduate surgical training in a residency programme, where he honed his surgical skills over the years. His artistic side remained strong, and he constantly yearned to express a greater aesthetic element in his work. In 2019, he left his surgical career in search of his calling.
A fateful encounter with Dr Kelvin Chua brought Wei Xiang into the world of Aesthetic Medicine. It was in Aesthetic Medicine where Wei Xiang found his “ikigai” of sorts. Under Kelvin’s mentorship, Wei Xiang grew steadily and became adept at a wide range of aesthetic procedures including Botox, fillers, lasers, HIFU, Thermage, Ultherapy and PicoCare Laser. His keen eye for beauty, coupled with his steady hands, allows him to bring out the best in his patients.
Wei Xiang occasionally still creates artwork in his free time, when he is not spending time with his wife and daughter, or jamming and making music.
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