Common Chemical Peels

One way to rejuvenate your face to look younger is by getting a chemical peel.  Typically, a chemical peel will remove the top layer of skin which also removes the pigmentation and dullness of the skin associated with aging.   Here is a list of the three most common peels and how they differ in their results.

1. Glycolic Acid Peel

A glycolic acid peel is sometimes also called an alpha-hydroxy acid peel.   Glycolic acid peels tend to peel the skin very superficially and for that reason are also very safe.   Safe concentrations of glycolic acid are available in over-the-counter peeling kits to use at home.   At a spa or doctors office, strengths of glycolic acid of up to 70% can be used which accomplishes a better result, but is riskier.  Glycolic acid peels are usually timed and then neutralized.  Beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) peels are slightly weaker than glycolic or alpha-hydroxy acid peels but are thought to penetrate into the pores more effectively and control oil production making them a good choice for an acne treatment. Because glycolic acid peels the skin superficially, only the upper layer of the skin is removed which results in an improvement in texture and appearance of the skin.  Glycolic acid peels are not a good choice for wrinkle reduction.

2. Jessners Peel

A Jessners peel is a peel that was developed by a German dermatologist named Max Jessner.   It contains an alpha-hydroxy acid (lactic acid), a beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) and resorcinol mixed in alcohol.   It is considered to be a superficial to medium depth peel as it penetrates slightly deeper than a glycolic acid peel.   The depth of a Jessners peel is determined by how many layers of the peeling agent are used and how long it is left on before neutralizing it.   Therefore, very superficial depths to medium depths can be obtained.  A Jessners peel is a good choice for texture and pigment abnormalities and can start to improve the appearance of superficial wrinkling.

The idea of chemical peels or exfoliation has been around for centuries.  There is evidence that the ancient Egyptians used lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid  in sour milk to improve the appearance of the skin.

3. Trichloroacetic Acid Peel

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels are considered to be medium depth to deep peels depending on the concentration of the acid used.   At strengths of 15-20%, they can be used as a superficial to medium depth peel.  Higher strengths of 35%-50% are used as deeper peels.   TCA peels should only be administered under the supervision of a physician as the deeper peels can cause scarring if not administered properly.  However, because of the depth of the TCA peel, deeper wrinkles can be improved as well as improvement of texture and pigment.  TCA peels are usually administered after weeks of pretreatment with a retinoid such as retin-A.   Patients with a history of having cold sores will be asked to also pre-treat a few days before and during the peel with acyclovir to prevent activating the cold sore virus and spreading it.

These three peels are the most common chemical peels utilized in spas and doctors offices today.  Selection of which peel is most suitable depends on what you want the peel to target.   Superficial peels such as a glycolic acid or a Jessner’s peel are a good choice for texture and pigment abnormalities of the face.   Wrinkles and more severe sun damage will require stronger peels such as a deeper Jessners peel or a trichloroacetic acid peel.