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Chemical Peels Explained - Your Top Questions Answered!

What are chemical peels? Do they hurt? How do they work? Are they right for you? We asked Dr Emmaline Ashley to give us the lowdown on the questions that you most often ask Google about chemical peels! You can watch Dr Emmaline's video on Glowday's YouTube channel here or keep scrolling to find out everything you want to know.

Dr Emmaline completed her first year as a doctor in London, working in emergency medicine and plastic surgery and continues to split her time between the NHS and private practice. Dr Emmaline has a first class honors degree in Biology, a Masters degree in Surgery, a professional certificate in Clinical Dermatology, and Level 7 Diploma in injectable Therapies (Aesthetic Medicine). This is the highest standard of training in medical aesthetics available in the UK.

Always choose a safe, medically-qualified and experienced aesthetics practitioner for your chemical peel. You can find lots of great ones near you here.

What Is A Chemical Peel?

Chemical peels are a clever little bit of science! We use very specific and tailored ingredients to exfoliate the skin and stimulate new cell growth. The top layer of your skin, which is the skin you can see and touch, consists of very tightly packed non-living cells and chemical peels will gently loosen some of these extra cells, allowing them to slough off, revealing a smoother layer of skin underneath.

Now, chemical peels are also controlled chemical burns, which is why for medium depth or deeper peels you need to be seen by a medical professional to do these safely. What we’re actually doing is causing temporary and very controlled injury, as this promotes beautiful new cell growth and collagen production which gives you a beautiful glow when your peel is done!

Why Are Chemical Peels Good?

Chemical peels are great because they are a good low-risk skin treatment that can give your skin that little boost that it needs. However, I always say there is no point spending money on a chemical peel, if it’s not supported by a really good, high quality, consistent skincare routine at home. A chemical peel can really push your skin forward and maintain all of the benefits you get from a good skincare routine. Peels are also great at tackling specific skincare issues such as hyper pigmentation, acne or rosacea.

What Chemical Peel Can Reduce Wrinkles?

Chemical peels can’t get rid of really deep wrinkles, but they certainly have a brilliant antiaging effect and they can be effective on more superficial wrinkles or fine lines. If you’re tackling these skin concerns, you’re probably going to be looking at a medium depth peel, such as a TCA peel.

What Is A TCA Peel?

TCA stands for trichloroacetic acid and it’s one of the oldest peels around, it started being used in the 1890s! It’s a very versatile peel which is why a lot of clinicians like it. You can vary its strength depending on the amount of TCA you’re using and it can be really tailored to your specific skin concerns. It penetrates deeper than most stand alpha hydroxy acid peels, so it tends to be a more medium depth or deeper peel, which is why you really want to see someone who is experienced and knows what they’re doing. It’s a great peel for things like acne scarring, skin damage and lines.

Chemical peels were used to transform Gema Lorenzo's patient's skin! An amazing before and after photo of a chemical peel success!

Are Chemical Peels Good For Hyperpigmentation?

Yes! Chemical peels can be brilliant for hyperpigmentation! But this is where you need to go to somebody really experienced as a skin care clinician, as patient selection is really key for this. In a lot of patients, particularly patients with skin of colour, if the skin isn’t adequately prepared and prepped before the peel, because the peel is causing controlled inflammation and injury, you can actually make the pigmentation worse or even cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. So while chemical peels are good for hyperpigmentation, go to somebody who knows what they are doing!

Can I Do A Chemical Peel At Home?

No, you shouldn’t be doing chemical peels at home. I’m not talking about medical grade skincare lines that have lovely peel pads you can use safely at home and I’m not talking about all chemical exfoliation products you can use at home which is all perfectly okay to do do at home if you’ve been given the right advice. I’m talking about a full chemical peel you would do in a clinical setting. Most peels are done with eye protection for our patients, which you wouldn’t be able to do at home, and while they are low risk there are still risks associated with them - so if you do have any reaction it’s better to be in a clinic where it can be neutralised and dealt with and where you can be given appropriate after-care.

What Chemical Peels Are Good For Acne and Acne Scars?

If you have really deep acne scars, a chemical peel on its own is not going to be enough. But if it’s a more superficial type of scarring, you’re looking at more medium-depth peels, such as the TCA peel which is a good solution. If you are acne-prone in general there are some brilliant peels that can help - salicylic acid peels are excellent - it’s a star acne-fighting ingredient, it’s really oil soluble so it’s great. Or something like malic acid if you have more sensitive skin that’s still acne prone. There are lots and lots of chemical peel options out there for people who are suffering from acne, so that we can prevent scars forming in the first place.

What Is The Best Chemical Peel?

This is a difficult question to answer as it really depends on your skin and what you’re trying to achieve. I work with some incredible medical grade skincare brands and these peel systems can be extremely sophisticated. Often I’m not just using one type of acid or one type of peel, I’m using a combination of different acids either together or in layers, to achieve the best results. There is a lot of room to play with!

What Is A Glycolic Acid Peel?

Glycolic acid is one of the alpha hydroxy acids, it’s derived from sugar cane and is the smaller of the alpha hydroxyls, so it’s really good at penetrating into the skin. It’s a brilliant chemical exfoliator for getting rid of excess sebum and dead skin cells, it’s great for areas of hyperpigmentation or sun damage and it also enhances collagen production and some of the natural sugars in our skin. Collagen is that protein that gives our skin that nice youthful plumpness and sugars in our skin are great for hydration. It’s a great all-round peel for improving skin texture, tone and clarity as well as improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Glycolic peels are one of the gold standard peels out there!

Can I Go To Work After A Chemical Peel?

This really depends on the type of peel that you have. Remember we have different layers of the skin. If you’re having superficial peels, it’s only affecting the top layers of the skin, so these are peels with very little downtime and are often called lunch-time peels because you can sneak off in your lunch break and get them done and nobody will know about it! A medium depth peel could have 7-10 days downtime and you are going to get side effects before you see the results of the peel such as redness, flaking and skin peeling. If your skin does peel, NO PICKING AT IT. Let it fall off naturally, you don’t want it to cause any further trauma or damage to the area. If you’re getting a deeper peel these are only ever done in a medical setting with dermatologists and plastic surgeons - they are far more invasive and there will be a lot of downtime associated.

Huge thanks Dr Emmaline for answering all of our BURNING questions about chemical peels! If you're interested in a chemical peel Glowday has hundreds of amazing clinics offering them, find one near you right here.

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