Chemical peels sound like some kind of science experiment from a high school chemistry lesson. What they don’t sound like, though, is an aesthetic treatment for glowing skin. But, hear me out. There are lots of benefits of chemical peels for acne and acne scars. They give the skin an extreme exfoliation, leaving it clear, smooth and even-toned. It’s a bit like giving your skin a fresh start - perfect for getting rid of breakouts and smoothing out skin texture!
So, how do chemical peels work?
How chemical peels help acne
Chemical peels have two main functions: to loosen dead skin cells and to cause controlled damage by removing layers of skin, initiating epidermal growth (simple terms: they encourage the formation of new skin cells). During the treatment, a chemical solution is applied to the face that exfoliates away layers of skin, cleaning out pores and eliminating acne-causing components.
Chemical peels can also help decrease sebum (oil) production, meaning there’s less chance that pores will become blocked in future - every acne sufferer’s dream!
That’s a very quick rundown of chemical peels. For a proper look at what chemical peels do and how they work, this article will get you up to speed. Now, let’s look at the best type of chemical peels for acne and acne scars.
Which chemical peels are best for acne?
Acne-prone skin is often treated with light chemical peels (and sometimes medium ones) to help keep pores clear and reduce breakouts. Light peels remove the outer epidermal layer of skin and medium-depth peels remove skin down to the upper dermal layers, giving it the chance to regenerate skin cells. These types of chemical peels are good for treating mild to moderate acne and, what’s particularly appeeling (pun intended!) about superficial peels, is that there’s no downtime - so, you can go about your day as usual afterwards. For medium-depth peels, the recovery time is a bit longer, taking roughly 7-10 days.
One of the most popular chemicals used for acne-prone skin is salicylic acid. This BHA (beta hydroxy acid) is great for getting deep into pores to dissolve dead skin cells and oil - um, yes please! But, there are other great acne-defeating chemicals out there, too, like Jessner’s solution and pyruvic acid.
Are chemical peels an acne cure?
Whilst the chemical peel benefits for acne are pretty great, peels might not be enough to cure acne on their own. Of course, everyone’s skin is different and responses to skin treatments vary from person to person. But, chemical peels are often recommended alongside an existing skincare routine, especially for more moderate acne.
Don’t be disheartened if you had your hopes set on a chemical peel treatment to bust all of your acne bothers, though. Chemical peels have an extra perk: because they remove layers of skin, any products you apply to your face afterwards will be absorbed better. And better absorption means better results - hurrah!
Chemical peels for acne scars
Because chemical peels exfoliate and resurface the skin, they’re also effective acne scarring treatments. But, if you’re looking into a chemical peel for acne scars, a light one might not cut it. Instead, medium and deep peels are usually more beneficial for improving the bumpy texture that comes with acne scars. Here’s how they work...
Medium chemical peels most often use trichloroacetic acid (TCA) to remove the epidermis and the upper dermal layers of skin, getting rid of damaged and scarred skin cells in the process. Afterwards, the skin starts to form new, undamaged cells, resulting in a smoother skin surface.
This is where our favourite ‘C’ word comes into play: collagen. As the skin starts to heal after a medium chemical peel, collagen is spurred into action. And what’s collagen good for? Plumping the skin. So, the collagen fills out the acne scars, making them less deep and evening out skin texture.
Medium chemical peels are a good choice if your scars are more superficial than deep. If you’re looking to improve deeper acne scars, though, you might want to try a deep chemical peel. A study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment found that acne scarring was improved, on average, by more than 75% when phenol (a common acid used in deep chemical peels) was used as a peeling agent - pretty staggering! But, be warned; deep chemical peels are very invasive treatments and can take months to heal (not to mention that they’re pretty painful and can have adverse side effects!).
Chemical peels for hyperpigmentation
One last note on chemical peels: they’re also great for reducing the annoying dark patches that appear after you’ve had a spot, technically known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Not only is skin tone evened out as new skin cells form after a peel, but some of the acids used in chemical peels - like lactic and kojic acid - have skin-lightening effects, helping to lift dark spots.
So, chemical peels are effective for helping pretty much all of your acne needs. They can be a commitment, though. You may need to have several chemical peels and incorporate them into your existing skincare routine for full efficacy. But, if they boost your skin confidence, they’re worth it! For some chemical peel aftercare tips, head over to this article.