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The Different Types Of Skin Peels Explained

Our expert from Poise Brands explains the difference between superficial, medium-depth and deep chemical peels.

Chemical peels are the secret to flawless skin and can treat more than one skin condition at a time. Regular chemical peels don’t just have beautifying benefits but they also strip the skin of pre-cancerous cells, preventing the disease from taking hold. The deeper the peel penetrates the longer your recovery will be, higher the risk, increased discomfort and more medical supervision will be required.

RELATED: Eight FAQs about chemical peels 

  1. Superficial Chemical Peel

Superficial chemical peels are also known as lunchtime, light, AHA or BHA chemical peels. Glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that occurs naturally in sugarcane, is the most common ingredient of superficial chemical peels (e.g. 10 to 70% peels). Superficial peels only penetrate the epidermis and the chemical solution is left on the skin for a relatively short amount of time. When applied to the face or another part of the body, the chemical peel solution works by removing the outer layers of skin so that a new, smooth layer of skin is revealed.

The action of the chemical solution stimulates the production of elastin and collagen, essential components of healthy, youthful skin. Superficial chemical peels are the most popular type of chemical peel performed by skincare experts because there is minimal discomfort, little or no downtime, no medical supervision required, few risks involved and guarantees sure-fire results. Superficial chemical peels can also treat a variety of skin conditions including sensitive skin, mild skin imperfections, acne and fine lines, and most people are sure to be an ideal candidate.

The difference between AHA & BHA

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are naturally derived and water based. AHA chemical peels often contain glycolic acid – extracted from sugarcane; lactic acid – extracted from milk; malic acid – extracted from pears and apples; citric acid – extracted from oranges and lemons; tartaric acid – extracted from grapes. AHAs are exfoliating, anti-ageing, lightening and brightening; they improve the appearance of oiliness and acne and are indicated for dry, mature and sun damaged skin.

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are naturally or chemically derived and oil based, but they differ slightly in their molecular structure to AHAs and rejuvenate the skin in a slightly different way. They are milder on the skin and indicated for oiliness and acne, congestion and sensitivity. The most common BHA is salicylic acid, which is either derived from willow bark (natural) or aspirin (chemical). Chemically derived BHAs are contraindicated to clients with aspirin allergy.

Recovery time: Superficial chemical peel side effects are few and, in most cases, light chemical peels require no recovery time. Though your skin may flake mildly or be slightly irritated after the peel, you should be able to return to work or everyday activities almost immediately after treatment.

Recommended course: A course of eight treatments over four weeks is recommended for optimal results.

  1. Medium-Depth Chemical Peel

TCA (trichloroacetic acid) is a modified synthetic chemical based on common vinegar, or acetic acid. Medium-depth chemical peels provide more dramatic results than superficial chemical peels, but they don’t require the extended recovery time of deep peels. Medium-depth chemical peels are popular because they are an excellent ‘spot’ treatment that can be used on any area of the body and can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. They are ideally suited to patients wishing to address wrinkles, superficial blemishes and scars, uneven pigmentation and sunspots.

Recovery time: After medium-depth chemical peels, a superficial crust forms over the treated area, then flakes off in three to seven days. The newly revealed skin may initially appear reddish, but the discolouration will fully fade within a week to reveal skin with dramatically improved texture, colour, and overall appearance. Healing time takes approximately two weeks. Medium-depth chemical peels are not without possible side effects. Some mild swelling is common after this type of skin peel.

Recommendation: Patients typically complete a prescribed series of treatments, with each treatment spaced two to three months apart. The number of treatments, as well as their spacing, depends on the patient’s goals, the condition of the patient’s skin, and other factors. 

  1. Deep Chemical Peel

Phenol peels penetrate the skin deeper than AHA peels or TCA peels to address more serious imperfections such as blotchiness, coarse wrinkles and acne scars. However, deep chemical peel recovery is lengthy and uncomfortable compared to milder chemical peels. Phenol’s bleaching effect make phenol peels less than ideal for dark-skinned patients. In addition, phenol peels are not recommended for patients with freckles because the treatment eliminates freckles, which causes the treated and untreated areas to look obviously different. Patients with certain heart conditions also face a higher risk from deep chemical peels. 

Recovery time: The patient’s face will be swollen, red and uncomfortable, and a crust will form on the treated skin several days after treatment. Within seven to 10 days, this crust will flake off to reveal a new layer of bright pink skin. After two to three months, this bright pink colour will fade to a pale, smooth complexion.

Recommended course: Only a single treatment is required. 

RELATED: Skin Pigmentation Explained

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By: Jo-Ann Janse van Rensburg. Image: ©iStock

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