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What are the Different Types of Chemical Peels?

Chemical peels are a body treatment technique designed to improve and smooth the texture of the skin. A chemical solution is used to remove dead skin which triggers a regeneration of smoother, less wrinkled skin. There are three main types of chemical peels available on the market for a variety of treatment options and levels.

Chemical Peel

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids

This category include chemical peels created from citric acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, and tantaric acid. As AHAs are harsher than other types of chemical peels and may increase photosensitivity to sunlight, they are best used with caution but are considered safe as a cosmetic agent at recommended dosages. The pH balance of the peel determines its use and safety considerations required:

  • 5-10% solutions are often found in over-the-counter products used to promote exfoliation by reducing cell adhesion in the top layer of the skin. These products may cause the worsening of melisma or pigmentary problems.
  • 10-50% solutions have more pronounced benefits and are limited to temporary skin smoothing treatments. These products may also be useful in preparing the skin for stronger glycolic acid concentrations by priming the skin for a deeper chemical peel.
  • 50-70% solutions are applied for only a few minutes under the supervision of a physician. It can be used to treat acne, photo-damage, wrinkling, and melisma but the benefits will depend on the exact pH of the solution, the length of application, and the condition of the skin prior to treatment.

Side effects for AHAs vary from mild skin irritation, redness, and flaking at the mild end to blistering, burning, and skin discoloration at the more serious end. In most cases side effects will be mild and last only a day or two after treatment.

Beta-Hydroxy Acids

BHAs are more commonly used than AHAs due to their milder nature. Made of salicylic acid, these treatments are able to penetrate more deeply into the pores as well as control sebum excretion and prevent acne. Due to the improved penetration, BHAs are actually better at removing dead skin cells. They are also known for their ability to ease aches and pains and reduce fevers but they are primarily used in skin-care products for treatment of conditions including:

  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis;
  • Acne;
  • Psoriasis;
  • Calluses;
  • Corns;
  • Keratosis;
  • Pilaris;
  • Dandruff; and
  • Warts.

Because BHAs work as keratoyltic, bacteriocide, comedolytic agents they cause the cells of the epidermis to shed more readily as well as opening pores, neutralizing bacteria, and preventing pores from clogging by constricting pore diameter.

Trichloracetic Acid

This intermediate to deep peeling agent is available in concentrations ranging from 20-50% and is used to smooth out fine surface wrinkles, remove superficial blemishes, and correct skin pigment problems. The stronger the concentration, the deeper the TCA peel is able to penetrate into the skin and concentrations of over 35% are not recommended due to a high risk of scarring.