Understand the ingredients in your chemical peel
Chemical peels can work magic on stubborn skin problems. There’s a formulation for almost any skin type, and they’ll help you say goodbye to persistent wrinkles, acne, pigmentation, scarring, and even saggy skin.
All chemical peels work the same way. The peeling agent penetrates the outer layer of skin, stimulating the layers underneath to generate healthy, new cells while getting rid of the old skin on top.
But all peels are not alike! Different active ingredients are used to treat different skin types and concerns. Here’s the lowdown on what’s out there and who it’s for.
Light peel ingredients
Glycolic acid, a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) is the most common kind of chemical peel. It comes in different concentrations ranging from 30-90%, depending on how deep the problem is and how sensitive the skin. It’s typically used for light peels that treat fine lines, sun damage, dullness, and uneven texture.
Salicylic acid, a type of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), may be familiar to you from the labels on acne cleansers. In chemical peel form, that’s exactly what this ingredient targets. It causes exfoliation even in oily areas of the skin, which makes it perfect for treating troublesome acne.
Lactic acid is another AHA that’s popular because it’s gentler than glycolic acid. It’s naturally found in human skin as well as milk, fruits, and vegetables. It has a moisturizing effect, making it ideal for treating dry skin, rosacea, and dullness. This is a good choice if your skin is sensitive or you’ve never had a chemical peel before.
Tartaric, malic, or citric acid also make for good alternatives to glycolic for sensitive skin, and some peels use them in combination with other ingredients. They work well for acne, rosacea, eczema, sun damage, and superficial pigmentation.
Medium and deep peel ingredients:
Trichloric acid (TCA) is the most common ingredient for medium peels, although it’s sometimes used in higher concentrations for deep peels or lower ones for light peels. It can treat more severe problems like acne scars, enlarged pores, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and sagging skin. There is some risk of temporary or permanent skin discoloration, so don’t try this one at home.
Phenol (also known as carbolic acid) is used for the deepest peels. It stimulates the skin to produce more collagen, making it very effective for wrinkles, and it can also help with hyperpigmentation. However, it can also cause permanent discoloration, especially in those with darker complexion. It’s strength also may not be appropriate for those who have sensitive skin or are prone to inflammation. Only a doctor should apply a phenol peel.
Fruit enzymes can also be used as chemical peels, alone or in combination with traditional peeling agents. They have antibacterial properties and promote cell growth. These ingredients are less harsh than other exfoliants, so they’re great for sensitive skin.
Resorcinol may be found in combination with other peeling agents, most often in a formulation called Jessner’s peel. It can treat acne, eczema, and skin texture problems.
Vitamin A (retinol or retinoic acid), an ingredient found in many anti-aging creams and serums, is also sometimes used as a peel. It targets wrinkles and some kinds of acne.
Get the right advice
There’s no substitute for expert advice from an experienced doctor, nurse, or certified esthetician. Check out a reputable medical spa or doctor’s office near you to find the right solution for your skin.