Chemical Peels and what they can do for your skin

what is a facial peel?
Many of you have asked me about chemical peels.  You've heard of them, but not quite sure what they do and if they are right for you.


A professional chemical peel is an esthetic procedure that exfoliates more deeply than what you can achieve at home.  Peels can help with many skin conditions;

  • acne and acne scars
  • wrinkles and fine lines
  • hyper-pigmentation or dark spots
  • dryness
  • sun damage
  • texture problems like roughness or uneveness

Your skin self-exfoliates naturally, but this process slows with aging, dehydration, certain types of medication, your environment or climate, or inadequate skin care.  Sometimes we want to help the skin exfoliate a little quicker, but it is not something we will do a lot because over exfoliating causes skin barrier problems, aggravating the condition you're trying to help.  Peels can make skin weaker, so we must use caution.

Peels are typically done in a weekly series for 3 - 6 weeks, and can be added to your regular facial as a boost when needed.  For more difficult conditions like acne scars and hyper-pigmentation, it is done in a longer series or multiple series.

There are many variations of peels, but we'll narrow it down to 3 basic types;  AHA, BHA and enzymes.

AHA Peels

AHA, or alpha hydroxy acid peels, are a large group encompassing subcategories like glycolic, lactic, mandelic, azaleic, Vitamin A, etc.  These peels can made from fruits, sugar, almonds or milk.  Usable acids are then extracted from these raw materials or synthetically reproduced.  Sometimes these acids are used separately, other times in precise combinations, depending on what your skin needs.

AHA peels desquamate - meaning they weaken the bonds between skin cells so they fall off; they can infiltrate the dead skin cells, making them swell until they burst.

Most of these peels cannot be used on pregnant or nursing women without doctor's permission.  AHA peels also cannot be used on skin that is freshly waxed, sunburned, exposed to regular use of Retin A or Accutane, benzoyl peroxide and other stronger actives.  Check with your esthetician for how long to stop using these before your have a chemical peel. 

The AHA peels are helpful for sun damage, textural problems, hyper-pigmentation, acne scars, certain types of acne, fine lines and dryness.

These peels cannot be used in combination with drugs like steroids, antibiotics, allergy medicines, cancer medications; or close to laser procedures.

BHA Peels

BHA peels are salicylic acid peels, an oil-based peel that's a derivative of willow bark which is a component of aspirin.  It can also be extracted or created synthetically.

This category is used for oily skins, large pores and acne.  Although this peel is oil-based, it can cause dryness.  Your esthetician will instruct you how to counteract this and which moisturizer to use to help the dryness and not aggravate the condition you're trying to treat.

The BHA peel cannot be used by people who are allergic to aspirin, have clotting disorders, are on Accutane, or who are pregnant or nursing.  Your esthetician will avoid performing the BHA peel when your skin barrier is compromised, such as when you've had a sunburn or had a hair removal procedure; when you're using vitamin A derivatives like Retin A, topicals like benzoyl peroxide, allergy medicines, antibiotics and steroids.  


Enzymes are not truly chemical peels.  Enzymes occur naturally in pineapple, papaya and pumpkin.  The professional enzyme is a more concentrated version than simply putting pineapple on your skin at home.  The enzyme's function is to dissolve dead skin cells which are made up of proteins.  The enzyme "eats" the protein, and the newer, smoother skin cells underneath are revealed. 

This is a great option for people who can not have peels.  For example, peels are not done on people who are undergoing procedures that exfoliate the skin like laser or chemotherapy.  Women who are too sensitive for other peels have beautiful results with enzyme peels. 

AHA and BHA Peels are not indicated for pregnancy without a doctor's approval, but enzymes can be used safely for pregnant women.  Some skins are simply too sensitive for peels, so enzymes are the way to go.

Which peel is right for my skin condition?

Your esthetician will evaluate your skin and the factors that dictate the use of peels.  Different types of peels can be blended for your specific needs.  Also,  percentages and pH level of particular peels can be adjusted for proper strength for the results you desire.

Best time for a peel?

Although peels can be done most of the year, summer and winter are least favorable.  In summer, too much heat raises your risk of hyper-pigmentation.  In winter, your skin loses hydration easily and the peel can cause further loss of moisture if the barrier is not protected.  Your skin type, health, thickness and home care procedures will determine when its best to do a chemical peel for your skin. 

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