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Chemical Peels: What Are They?

Do you want more youthful and glowing skin?


If your answer was “yes”, then your skin needs a chemical peel!

So, what exactly is a chemical peel?


A chemical peel is a cosmetic procedure that involves the application of chemical agents (e.g. glycolic acid, salicylic acid) which remove the keratin layer of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. A chemical peel causes a controlled injury to the skin, with the depth of injury depending on the strength and type of peel used. This procedure leads to an improvement in skin texture and appearance and gives a tightening effect by stimulating collagen production.


Superficial chemical peels are the mildest type of peel, and only penetrate into the epidermis. This type of peel can be done as a “lunchtime peel”, since it has minimal downtime. Alpha-hydroxy acids

like glycolic acid, lactic acid and salicylic acid are the most commonly used superficial peeling agents. Superficial chemical peels give the skin a gentle exfoliation and has an instant brightening and smoothening effect. The client may experience very light shedding or flaking of the skin, but this is usually minimal with a superficial chemical peel.


A superficial chemical peel can be done on clients who struggle with the following:

- Dull, sallow skin appearance

- Enlarged pores

- Oily skin

- Pigmentation

- Mild sun damage,

- Dry/dehydrated skin

- Mild acne scarring

- Fine lines and wrinkles


Superficial chemical peels can be safely done every 4-6 weeks, with the client also following a proper at-home skincare routine.


Medium-depth chemical peels work slightly deeper than superficial chemical peels. Where superficial chemical peels only penetrate the epidermis, a medium-depth peel will have an effect in


the epidermis, as well as the upper layers of the dermis. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and Jessner’s solution are commonly used medium-depth peels. These peels have more downtime than superficial peels and often cause a lot of skin flaking and peeling. The skin may also have a sunburn-like redness after the peel that can last for a few days after the chemical peeling procedure. Some chemical peels can be done by somatologists, depending on the peeling agent, but there are other peels that should only be performed by a medical practitioner or dermatologist.


A medium-depth peel can be used to improve the following conditions:

- Sun damage

- Lines and wrinkles

- Mild scarring e.g. acne scarring

- Pigmented lesions e.g. age spots, dark patches, freckles, melasma

- Uneven skin texture


Deep chemical peels penetrate all the way down to the lower dermis. These peels have significant down-time, but produce long-lasting results. A common ingredient used in deep chemical peels is phenol – also called carbolic acid. Prepping of the skin is of utmost importance before undergoing this procedure. A lack of skin prepping before having a deep chemical peel can lead to a chemical burn on the skin, leading to undesirable results and permanent side effects like scarring.


Since these peels penetrate very deep into the skin, the procedure can be painful. The clients usually require a sedative and anaesthetic to make the treatment process more comfortable. The skin will be red, inflamed and possibly slightly swollen after the procedure. Due to the depth of penetration into the skin, deep peels have a much longer healing process and can have weeks of downtime.


Deep phenol peels are strictly only to be performed by a medical professional. Not all clients are good candidates for a deep chemical peel, and a proper client consultation and skin assessment must be done before deciding on this treatment option.


Deep chemical peels can be used to treat the following:

- Deep lines and wrinkles

- Deep, severe sun damage

- Scarring

- Pigmentation

- Pre-cancerous lesions of the skin


Chemical peels have been popular for decades and has been safely used to treat many different skin conditions.


Now that you know the different types of chemical peels, you can make an informed decision as to what your skin needs and which treatment you would like to have done.


It is important to consult with a medical professional or a qualified skincare professional before having a chemical peeling treatment. There is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to peeling procedures. Every client’s skin is unique and there are many factors to be considered before treating the skin with any sort of chemical ingredient.


Written by Maryke le Roux (Dermal Aesthetician)

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