Which Chemical Peel Is Right for You?

Skin care advice from the experts at UW Health Transformations Jeune Skin Care:


There are many chemical peel choices - and with all the options that are available, the decision can be daunting.


Chemical Peels are cosmetic procedures using a chemical solution to rejuvenate the skin, thereby improving and smoothing the texture and clarity of the skin. There are several types of chemical peels ranging in strength from mildly superficial to deeply resurfacing; alpha hydroxy acid peels (AHA), beta hydroxy acid peels (BHA), Jessners's peels, retinoic acid peels, trichloroacetic acid peels (TCA), and phenol peels.


The type, strength and acidic PH content will determine whether the chemical peel can safely be performed by a licensed aesthetician (superficial peels) or under the direction of an authorizing physician (deeper peels). Certain chemical peels may only be administered by a licensed physician.


Superficial Peels


Watch one of our medical aestheticians
demonstrate a micropeel

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are usually derived from citric (citrus fruits), glycolic (sugar cane), lactic (fermented milk), malic (apples) and tartaric (grapes). Generally, glycolic and lactic acid are the two most commonly applied. AHAs are the mildest of all chemical peels. They are primarily beneficial for the treatment of very fine lines, dry and dehydrated skin, mild skin and pigment irregularities and acne.


Lactic acid is very hydrating and brightening to the skin. It has a very large molecular structure and thus it tends to be less irritating. Glycolic acid, on the other hand, has the smallest molecular structure, penetrating quickly and deeper - thus being more irritating. It tends to feel "spicy" on the skin during the professional treatment. It is a commonly used, multi-functional acid varying in strengths, usually between 15, 20, 30, 50 and 70%, which provides many skin benefits.


Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are lipid based (oil loving) and the most widely used acid is salicylic. They tend to work very well on oily skin types, helping to control oil production, on acne prone and congested skin, and to a certain extent perform better than AHAs (due to their ability to penetrate deeper with their lipid base capabilities attaching to our own natural skin oils).


Think of salicylic acid as a "Roto-Rooter" for the pores. Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce redness and irritation from breakouts. Clients with sensitivity to aspirin are contraindicated for the use of salicylic acid.


Watch one of our medical aestheticians
demonstrate the Illuminize Peel

Jessner's Peels are typically a combination of lactic acid, salicylic acid and resorcinol in an ethanol base. The resorcinol drives the other acids farther into the skin layers. Jessner's peels vary by strength and percentages of acid used. Some are classified as a mild Jessner's, like those combining additional acids, such as mandelic derived from bitter almonds, which is calming to the skin and helps reduce redness and inflammation. Phytic acid from rice bran is a natural skin brightener. Clients with sensitive/sensitized skin, such as those with rosacea, can benefit from receiving chemical peels with lactic, mandelic and phytic acid.


Jessner's Peels are often followed by a layer of retinoic acid, aiding in deeper peel penetration, allowing the acid to effectively break the "glue" between the skin cells known as keratinocytes. Combining retinoic acid into the peel provides enhanced results and facilitates in skin healing.


Medium to Medium-Deep Peels


Trichloroacetic Acid Peels (TCA) are perhaps the most frequently used acid for a medium depth peel. It is available in a range of strengths and combinations. Many times it is used at lower percentages in conjunction with other acids such as salicylic acid. When used as a stand alone agent with percentages above 20%, it is routinely administered only by a physician. TCA peels are a great choice for advanced pigment irregularities, sun damage, deeper wrinkles and acne scars. Depending on the strength and percentage used, TCA can be classified as a medium-deep chemical peel.


Deep Peels


Phenol peels, also known as carbolic acid, are the strongest chemical peel solutions and result in a deep skin peel. The concentration and combination of phenol used - possibly in conjunction with other solutions, such as resorcinol and salicylic acid - will determine the frequency between treatments. Phenol peels are very powerful and can provide dramatic facial rejuvenation with long lasting results. In some cases, they may only be administered once in a lifetime. They are generally administered by a physician.


Today, laser peels - such as Sciton's ProFractional and Contour Laser Resurfacing - are often preferred methods for deep facial rejuvenation, offering safe, more controlled and predictable results. (Available at UW Health Transformations)


So, what does all this mean?


In conclusion, the deeper the peel, the greater the results and skin rejuvenation. It also means additional down time due to increased skin sensitivity, redness, inflammation, skin peeling and healing. A higher risk of complications can also arise with deeper peels. Superficial chemical peels are a suitable choice for individuals who have never had a professional chemical peel service, or people looking for mild correction and skin care maintenance. But keep in mind, they are just that… superficial. Even a series of 3-6 superficial peels spaced 3-4 weeks apart is not going to remove deep lines, wrinkles and excess pigment abnormalities.


Professional strength chemical peels with a very low PH offered in medical facilities generally are performed by licensed aestheticians and physicians. They are not the same as over- the-counter (OTC) or do-it-yourself (DIY) home peel kits that may possibly be purchased online. Those are often "buffered" and may be diluted. If you purchase some type of acid online with a PH of 3.0 or lower, it can result in health risks, including injury and scarring in the hands of an untrained person.


So when it comes to your skin and chemical peels, leave it to the licensed professionals to make the decision on what is best for you and your skin condition. Simple, easy, non-complicated.


Learn more about our UW Health Transformations Jeune Skin Care services:

Chemical peels are not recommended for pregnant or lactating women or anyone who has taken Accutane in the last year. Tretinoin (AKA: Retin-A), Retinols and any face waxing need to be stopped one week prior to chemical peels.



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