The Truth About This Skin-Care Technique May Surprise You

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.

If your first thought upon hearing “chemical peel” is red,
flaky skin that'll have you hiding out for days, you should keep in mind
that not all peels are created equal. There are, essentially, three kinds:
light, medium, and deep, and there are worlds of difference between them. 

A chemical peel involves applying a solution (acid) to skin to remove
and exfoliate the outer layers and reveal a clearer, more evenly pigmented and
glowing complexion. Chemical exfoliation is also instrumental in the
stimulation of fibroblasts and in creating new collagen, so it’s super-beneficial
in keeping skin looking and acting younger. Post-peel, this new, regenerated
skin is usually smoother and less wrinkled than the old skin, but it may be
temporarily more sensitive to sun, which is why the daily use of sunscreen is a must.

Chemical peels are often done every two to six weeks
in order to achieve desired results. However, the time interval depends on the
type of peel.       

Light Peels 
Light chemical peels offer immense benefits for almost all
skin types and leave skin glowing, radiant, and more youthful-looking. For
this reason, I recommend clients use them on a regular basis. They’re
often referred to as “lunchtime peels” or “micro peels” — perfect for
the person who can’t spare any downtime for recovery. 

They often use alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic;
beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as salicylic, in 10 to 30% formulas; enzymes
(using ingredients such as cranberry); and vitamin C. The skin may turn pink, but usually only
minimal (if any) peeling or flaking occurs, so you can get right back into your
daily routine. You can do these as often as every two weeks. They are commonly used
in conjunction with facials.


Medium Peels
Often called “weekend peels,” medium peels are for people
who need a more intense result than what light peels can offer. They often use
TCA (trichloroacetic acid), 30 to 70% glycolic acid, and vitamin A to provide
more aggressive peeling. The skin may turn a reddish or darker brown for about
two to three days. This discoloration is most notable around the
eye area. 

If you opt for one of these peels, it’s crucial that you not pick or peel off any of the flaky skin, and simply let the peeling occur naturally to prevent scarring. Some people will be most comfortable taking off a few days from work and social engagements to let the peel do its work and allow the skin to heal.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.

Deep Peels
Phenol peels are the strongest of
the chemical solutions, giving
long-lasting and dramatic results in the reduction of facial wrinkles and acne
scarring. However, they're increasingly becoming an outdated procedure
due to lengthy downtime and unpredictable results associated with uneven skin tone or
loss of pigment. Additionally, in some cases they may cause a second-degree burn on the skin. Recovery may be slow, and complete healing may take one to two months.

Regardless of what peel you choose, it’s extremely
important that the person administering the treatment is well-versed and
experienced. If the peel isn’t left on long enough, it will have no effect on
the skin, but if it’s left on for too long, you run the risk of potential
damage. I’ve also noticed in recent years that some aestheticians get a little
“peel-happy,” and do them on anyone and everyone. Peels are not the best option
for all skin types, especially those that are sensitive, easily irritated, or

Don’t have time to get a professional chemical
peel? Consider using an at-home option one to three times a month. They often use various
acids (malic, salicylic, glycolic, and lactic), and are usually left on the skin
for three to 10 minutes before rinsing off. While at-home peels are not as strong as in-spa peels,
they can yield similar results with continued use. These formulas are intended to deliver
smoother, brighter-looking skin. They're a great option for people who don't have the time it takes to recover from a deep peel.

In addition to the face, you can use peels on dry hands and cuticles to reveal softer skin, on a sun-damaged chest to even the skin tone and remove dryness, and on keratosis pilaris to flatten bumps and give a smooth appearance. And, surprisingly, there is a recommended season
for getting a peel: They're best performed from November to May, on skin that hasn't been in the sun a lot. 

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