There’s something about the idea of cosmetic skin peels that can trigger perfect-skin fantasies even in the most down-to-earth of us. The idea that you, an aesthetician, or dermatologist could apply a thin layer of product to your skin and erase years of sun damage, uneven pigmentation, or the beginnings of crow’s feet sounds pretty appealing, right? Even though skin peels aren’t magic or real-life Photoshop, they can help to visibly improve your skin’s appearance.
We spoke to Dr. Haideh Hirmand, a plastic surgeon who regularly performs this procedure at her office, about different peels, what they can do, and who they’re good for — or not good for.
If you want an overall glow to skin — that je ne sais quoi of beauty — almost any peel will help. That’s because a peel by definition removes an old layer of skin and uncovers fresher, brighter skin. “Peels help to resurface, stimulate collagen, and keep fine lines and pigmentation at bay,” says Dr. Hirmand. Milder peels done at home are also good for maintenance after an in-office peel, she says, but on their own they’re not as effective as the in-office peel. Pretty much any kind of peel works, says Dr. Hirmand, if looking rejuvenated is your aim.
When it comes to acne scars, however, peels are of limited use. “Unfortunately,” Dr. Hirmand says, “peels generally do not impact acne scars, but they can help prevent current acne by helping to prevent clogged pores.” For minimal acne scar treatment, Dr. Hirmand recommends a peel of TCA 10 or higher; for a current acne condition, try a glycolic acid or TCA peel.
Those last two peels are also good for hyperpigmentation, the increased and uneven darkening of skin in certain areas due to sun exposure, inflammation, or skin injury. It primarily affects those with more melanin (responsible for skin’s pigmentation) in their skin.
Basically, anything from freckles to uneven patches of pigment on skin are considered hyperpigmentation. Peels — both the in-office and at-home kind, Dr. Hirmand says — are effective in reducing hyperpigmentation. You’ll get maximum results if you do a series of six peels (at least two weeks apart) in conjunction with lighteners such as kojic acid, vitamin C, or hydroquinone. (You’ll also need to be religious about sunscreen use.)
If shedding skin for days isn’t your thing, Dermalogica has launched a new professional Bioactive Peel that targets acne, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines — but with very little downtime compared to traditional in-office peels. Or, as a complement to an in-office peel, SkinCeuticals’ new Advanced Pigment Corrector can also address hyperpigmentation. Meant to be used twice daily, it fades discoloration and helps skin resist hyperpigmentation with a powerful cocktail of salicylic acid, vitamin E, hydroxyphenoxy propionic acid — which helps inhibit melanin and reduces discoloration — and yeast extract.
As effective as peels can be, Dr. Hirmand cautions that certain deep peels are not good for dark-skinned women, as they can actually prompt even more hyperpigmentation and scarring. Peels such as the TCA 10 percent, mild salicylic and glycolic, and pigment-balancing peels, can, however, be used safely by dark-skinned women. As for pregnant women? Avoid chemical peels altogether.
If you do get a peel, taking care of your delicate skin is essential. First, choose a gentle cleanser for your skin. Second, keep your skin hydrated. You may also want to add antioxidant serums to your skin. And, of course, stay out of the sun, wear sunblock, and consider wearing a hat. Although it should go without saying, Dr. Hirmand says, “You should avoid retinoids for a few days to a week, depending on the depth of the peel.” In addition, avoid anything with acid components or harsh exfoliators for a week or so. Your reward: even, smooth, clear skin. Not a bad trade-off, we'd say.
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