Chemical peels sound scary. With the growing trend towards natural products, people hear the word “chemical” and feel like they’ll be using a bunch of unhealthy, unnatural ingredients on their skin that will cause their skin to be red, irritated, and flaky. But chemical peels are a great skin treatment to revitalize a dull complexion, control acne, and jump start an anti-aging program.
First, let’s talk about exactly what a chemical peel is. A chemical peel is essentially a way to exfoliate or remove dead skin. There are two kinds of exfoliation: chemical and mechanical. Mechanical exfoliation is using a texture to remove dead skin cells. Think: scrubs, Buf-Puf sponges, and microdermabrasion. Chemical exfoliation is using an ingredient to cause a reaction on the skin and release dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliation includes enzyme, which works only on dead skin cells, and acid, which releases both dead skin cells and those near death. Acid exfoliation takes living skin cells to stimulate the skin’s natural healing responses and trigger faster cell turnover.
Acid exfoliation sounds scary, but it’s effective and often more gentle than mechanical exfoliation. Your skin is already acidic, and the peel will cause the pH of the skin to drop further, which will release the skin cells. The factor that dictates how many layers of skin you remove is how much the pH of the skin drops. For example, a glycolic moisturizer may only have a pH of 4.0 (compared to your skin’s natural pH of 4.4-4.5), while a peel that you buy at Sephora may have a pH of 3.0. A peel that you may get a dermatologist’s office may go as low as 1.0 or 0.7. The lower the pH of the peel goes, the deeper the exfoliation. That is to say, the deeper the exfoliation, the more you will start to look like Samantha from Sex and the City did after her disastrous peel right before a big event.
Chemical peels don’t have to be full of synthetic chemicals, either. Many of the most common exfoliants can be derived naturally. Enzyme masks generally use extracts from papaya and pineapple to gently dissolve away skin. Acid peels are generally derived from food sources. Glycolic can be from sugar, lactic from milk, citric from citrus fruit, and so on. Check your ingredients list and ask questions if you’ve decided that natural ingredients are important for you.
Peels are my favorite way to get a fast glow. You can remove excess dead skin, nourish, and stimulate new growth all in one swipe. [Tweet this!] In fact, because professionals can access stronger, more effective products, I think springing for the add-on peel in a facial is a great way to take advantage of something you can’t get at home. Use them if your complexion is looking tired, if you’re suffering from acne, or if your anti-aging treatments seem to have plateaued.