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How Safe Are Chemical Peels For Acne?

chemical peels
image credit: Anewu Medical Spa

A chemical peel may sound terrifying at first, but studies show that it is a very safe and well-researched form of treatment for acne, scarring, and even aging skin conditions.

What is a chemical peel?

You will see many dermatology and aesthetics clinics, and spas offering chemical peels to help their patients with acne and scarring concerns. A study was published in the journal Clinics in Dermatology where researchers assessed the effectiveness of chemical peels for treating active acne and acne scars. The research concluded that a series of chemical peels can give a significant improvement in a short time resulting to satisfaction of the patient.

Chemicals are generally used to help improve the appearance of the skin, even beyond the acne scars. Research showed that applying a specific peel that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid to your skin and letting it sit for a certain period of time . It allows the chemicals to sit enough to kill a fine layer of skin cells on top of your skin. But this should not be very long enough that can cause damage to the lower layers of your skin.

A chemical peel is an acidic solution which is applied to affected spots of your skin. On penetrating the skin, this solution helps destroy dead skin and unclogging pores. This aims at producing new, healthier skin cells. When it is applied for several weeks continually, it helps minimize the severity of acne scarring. 

Chemical peels as an acne scar treatment comes in superficial, medium, or deep peels. The particular type of peel that an individual would get will depend on the type of their skin and other factors.

Category of Chemical Peels 

  • Glycolic acid
  • Salicylic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Polyhydroxy acid
  • Amino fruit acid
  • Trichloracetic acid or TCA
  • Pyruvic acid

Basic Types of Peels And How They Work

Superficial Peels

Superficial peel is a mild peel which is effective for mild to moderate acne but has little effect on severe acne.

Superficial Peel is a mild peel for all types of skin. This peel penetrate only the upper layer of the skin like the epidermis. It helps remove  dead skin cells from the surface, relieve inflammation, and minimize oil production temporarily. It is categorized as having lower strength chemical peel and generally use 30% concentrations of salicylic acid and glycolic acid. Some studies claim that salicylic acid peels minimize acne by about 47 to 75% and glycolic acid by 50 to 95%. This shows that glycolic acid is more effective compared to salicylic acid.

A particular publication in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology & Venereology claims that when superficial peels are used in mild to moderate facial acne, it minimizes acne lesions with an effect that becomes more evident with the increasing numbers of treatments. It says, “Improvements in both inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions have been reported, but the effect on nodulocystic acne is minimal.”

Using these peels can result in redness, burning sensations, and dryness. Some common side effects appear during the initial use as the skin is not used to this treatment. And as the skin removes its uppermost layers because of peeling, the skin becomes sensitive to sunlight. Therefore, always apply sunscreen when you are outside.

Medium Peels

Medium peel is more effective in treating comedones like blackheads and whiteheads instead of inflammatory lesions. This is because these peels contain Trichloracetic acid (TCA), mostly between 35 to 50% concentrations.

A study published in PubMed compares TCA and salicylic acid says, “25% TCA is superior in treating comedonal lesions, whereas the 30% salicylic acid peel is superior in treating inflammatory lesions.”

While it absorbs the deeper layers of the skin to treat acne scarring, it may result to permanent darkening of the skin in individuals with dark skin. So, TCA peels are not recommended for those with dark skin.

Side effects include swelling and reddening of the skin which usually disappear within one week of use. Also, like any other peels, it is recommended to avoid exposure to sun as much as possible.

Deep Peels

Deep peels are formulated to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin. It helps improve the texture of the skin by removing the acne scars. Take note that deep peel should only be applied once. These peels use strong concentrations of acid that works by breaking down proteins and boost the production of collagen. It usually uses 88% phenol which is combined with croton oil.

A study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment showed that 100% improvement in acne scarring patients and the scar severity was improved by 75.12%.

As these peels fully remove the top layer of the skin, it comes with severe side effects like crusting, swelling, skin discoloration, and even bleeding. These downsides can last long and for about 6 months to go away.

Take note that all forms of treatment, including chemical peels, will depend on several factors which include the type of your skin, like if it light or dark. Experience proves that chemical peels may effectively treat acne scars in individuals with lighter skin.

Those with darker skin may have to be more choosy in the type of peel they want to use. If they are having melasma (a hyperpigmentation disorder), they may want to stick with traditional glycolic peels.

Other Side Effects of Chemical Peels

Several side effects of chemical peeling such as dryness, redness, flaking, peeling, discoloration, scaling, and even swelling of the face to the point if you are eyes are temporarily closed. There are temporary scabs or crusts that may appear on the treated parts of the skin.

An NYC dermatologist and Director of Dermatologist Surgery at NY Medical College, Dr. Dendy Engelman, suggests “I’ve seen some DIY disasters from patients who have ordered peels off the internet and really ruined their skin. I would say go for a trusted brand from a trusted source. When in doubt, go for a lower concentration of active ingredients.”

What you can do is to check if the peel fits your skin type and be careful if you have sensitive skin. Also, avoid exposing yourself from the sun as much as possible. Use a suitable sunscreen when you go outside. Any side effect will take for one week and disappear once you get used to the product.

The best that you can do is consult a dermatologist near you before using chemical peels.

Did you find the content useful and helpful? Leave us a message or share your thoughts about chemical peels in treating your acne. We love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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Written by Maria

My passion is helping other people overcome the pain and embarrassment of acne. I have dealt with acne since my teenage years and know first-hand how hard it is to suffer from this condition.

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