How Does a Chemical Peel Work?

At Chevy Chase Facial Plastic Surgery in Bethesda, MD, we're eager to introduce you to a treatment that's only gotten better with time: the chemical peel. It's been used in one form or another since ancient times and is today recognized as one of the most effective ways to enjoy smooth, glowing skin at any age. It can also correct concerns like scars and wrinkles to truly rejuvenate your appearance.

How Does a Chemical Peel Work?

Peels use acids that raise skin acidity to around a 3.8 pH level. Skin normally maintains a pH of around 5.5; changing this level chemically loosens cells that form a barrier between dead and living skin. This is a beneficial result. We want that barrier dissolved so we can get to the underlying layer of fresh, healthy skin that's damage-free. With the barrier loose, dead skin starts to gently but effectively exfoliate. As those cells are sloughed away, new skin blooms like a flower. Peels are so effective they've been used for thousands of years. You read that correctly - women in Ancient Egypt applied sour milk to their skin to harness the rejuvenating power of lactic acid. They also used substances like alabaster and animal oils to improve skin texture.

What Happens During a Peel?

Before the chemical solution is applied to your face, your skin will be cleansed to remove sunscreen, makeup, and oil. These substances serve as obstacles that keep the acid from sinking appropriately into tissues. The length of time the acid remains on your face depends on the peel's strength and type. Some mild peels neutralize themselves and can be later rinsed off. Stronger peels, however, often require neutralizing agents that stop the acid from working. The chemicals that comprise a peel dissolve skin's outer layers to reveal:
  • A brighter complexion
  • Even skin tone
  • A softer, smoother texture
 

Collagen Stimulation

One of the lesser-known effects of chemical peels is the building of new collagen. This treatment causes a small injury to the skin that allows collagen to regenerate and build anew. Collagen is crucial to your skin's overall health. It helps form the extra-cellular matrix (ECM) that gives shape and structure to your skin. Collagen also goes hand-in-hand with elastin, the protein that gives skin its bounce. When you move your skin, elastin helps it snap back into place.

The Problem of Time

Production of both collagen and elastin wanes with time. This is when the skin develops the fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging associated with aging. Helping to amplify collagen and elastin levels can refresh your entire appearance in a very natural way. These proteins give you a smoother canvas and restore your natural glow - while improving your skin's health from within.

Different Types of Peels

Chemical peels are classified by their penetration depth and divided into three categories: superficial, medium, and deep. Different peel depths achieve different clinical outcomes. As you might have guessed, deeper peel penetration equates to a more dramatic change in your appearance. Even mild peels, however, can evoke significant improvements to your skin. Before proceeding with treatment, we'll review your skin's overall condition to identify the peel depth that's right for you.

Light Peels

These are considered the mildest of all peel formulas, instantly brightening and smoothing skin for a more refined appearance. Some of the conditions light peels help correct include:
  • Mild acne scarring
  • Dry skin
  • Mild sun damage
  • Fine lines
  • Dull complexion
  • Acne breakouts
The mild nature of these treatments makes for a great introduction to peels. They allow patients to start with gentle ingredients like alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids and then gradually increase to stronger formulations. But don't think these peels only deliver mild results; they can refresh your appearance just as well as their stronger counterparts. The difference is light peels only target the epidermis, meaning they're ideal for addressing surface concerns.

Medium Peels

Medium depth peels such as TCA work well on a variety of concerns, from superficial lines and wrinkles to deeper scars and severe photoaging. These peels can also be blended for a more comprehensive treatment. For instance, TCA might be mixed with glycolic, salicylic, and/or lactic acid. Blending acids together reduces their concentration levels without compromising treatment results. A medium peel sinks into the epidermis and reaches part or all of the dermis. These treatments can therefore target more severe issues than light peels. A series of six to eight sessions may be recommended to fully address your concerns, but we'll review this in more detail at your consultation. Keep in mind medium peels are safe for all skin tones and types and can deliver dramatic results; for this reason, they enjoy great popularity among patients.

Deep Peels

Deep peels are less common today than in years past, largely because light and medium peels have grown more sophisticated in recent years. With continuous treatments, either can provide nearly the same results as deeper peels. This is not to say, however, that deep peels don't serve important roles. Some patients cannot achieve their desired effects with lighter treatments. For instance, deep peels can treat heavy wrinkles, severe photoaging, and deep scars. Formulations often include phenol and croton oil; once applied, this duo penetrates into the skin's most hidden layers. New collagen production then leads to skin remodeling, but in exchange, a deep peel can be performed just once.

What About At-Home Peels?

Most stores today have shelves of products you can use at home, including chemical peels. The trouble with these is they deliver minimal results, meaning they waste your money. Over-the-counter peels are of much lower strength than those administered by professionals. In effect, you're purchasing a product that behaves similarly to a facial scrub or physical exfoliant. To truly yield the benefits peels can provide, you need to put yourself in the hands of well-qualified staff. And the benefits are indeed numerous, especially once people reach the age of 40. Thanks to a loss of oil, elastin, and collagen, this is when skin starts to show the signs of time. Switching from a physical scrub to a peel at this point is more delicate on the skin, promotes cell turnover, and helps you look more rejuvenated.

Clearing Common Misconceptions

Despite their popularity, peels are shrouded in misconceptions. To illustrate, many people believe these treatments hurt when just the opposite is true. Aestheticians and dermatologists actually favor peels for their ease of use and efficacy. They are gentle enough to apply even to those with sensitive skin. And treatment is quick and comfortable; hence the reason for the term "lunchtime peels." Many people believe their skin will peel for weeks after treatment. In reality, some patients don't visibly peel at all, and you may not either. Peeling is not necessary to reap the many effects of treatment. Keep in mind the chemical solution works at the cellular level, which we cannot see. Any peeling you do experience is simply the effect of dead skin being removed.

What Peels Can Do

Confusion exists as to how effective peels are at correcting deep skin scars. Light and medium peels can easily eliminate superficial pigmentation and scars, even out your skin's tone and texture, and reduce the size of pores. Deep scars, however, may require a deeper peel or even the combination of a peel with laser in order to resurface skin at the dermal layer. We will determine the treatment plan that's best for your needs during your consultation.

Skin Types

One of the worst misconceptions is that only people with problematic skin should get peels. Let us be clear: anyone who wants a refresh should consider treatment. Yes, peels resolve skin imperfections, but they also help maintain skin health and appearance. By eliminating dead cells and giving new skin a chance to flourish, peels keep you looking smooth and hydrated. They also prevent clogged pores and a dull, sallow complexion that makes you look older and more tired than you are.

Let's Talk Dry Skin

Many people with dry skin similarly believe peels will not benefit them. In truth, these treatments can substantially improve hydration by restoring the skin's natural moisture barrier. This allows your moisturizers and other skincare products to penetrate more deeply and provide broader results. Those with dry skin should therefore consider peels for the healing benefits they provide.

A Formula for Almost Everyone

Peels can be applied to a variety of skin tones and types to safely improve scarring, lines, and hyperpigmentation. Treatment is also an effective way to maintain your skin's health and promote collagen production. Schedule your consultation today by contacting Chevy Chase Facial Plastic Surgery in Bethesda, MD.