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The Benefits of AHA Chemical Peels


By Tara Ichelson, Licensed Esthetician, Owner, Pretique SkinSpa

Many of us are familiar with the term “chemical peel,” as men and women alike have become interested in the quest to reverse those pesky signs of aging. Chemical peels can treat a variety of concerns in the skin, from uneven pigmentation due to sun damage (age spots, sun spots), to addressing pigmentation caused by hormonal issues that can arise in pregnancy or as a result of taking certain birth control pills. Even some acne conditions and mild scarring can be improved, and, of course, let’s not forget those dreaded fine lines and wrinkles. Yes, chemical peels can be used as a corrector to many of these issues, but what is a chemical peel, and how exactly does it work?

A chemical peel is a process in which a formulation of an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid), most commonly used, is applied to the skin in order to effectively loosen and dissolve the dead skin cells that clutter up the surface of the skin and cause all kinds of undesirable effects. This type of exfoliation can effectively reach the lower levels of the skin to rejuvenate life into skin cells that have lost their ability to produce collagen and elastin, which is what keeps our skin plumped, firm, and youthful looking. Peels go a step further and are able to prevent the skin cells that still have some oomph left, from getting to that point. This results in brighter, smoother, and more even skin tone, essentially allowing the skin to repair and correct itself from the inside out, addressing the breakdown of these cells at the source.

AHAs are most typically derived from natural food sources, and there are a few different formulations, so we will review the most widely used:

  • Lactic acid is found in sour milk. This type of peel tends to have a mild effect on the skin, so it’s ideal for those who are prone to sensitivity, or for somebody who wants to test the waters before moving on to something stronger. It also works well in penetrating thickened skin, and not only exfoliates, but holds water in the skin to help retain moisture.
  • Fruit acid peels, or enzymatic peels, most commonly contain enzymes called papain, derived from the papaya, and bromelain, which is derived from the pineapple and is one of the most effective enzymes there is. Enzymes are capable of breaking down and metabolizing proteins on the skin, allowing new healthy cells to push toward the surface.
  • The most effective AHA of them all is glycolic acid, which is the most widely used peel out there. Glycolic is derived from sugar cane, and effectively breaks up the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, plus has an added bonus. The molecular size is so small that it can actually penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin, which makes it effective in stimulating collagen within the dermis, which is where the bundles of tough fibers live to give your skin elasticity, firmness, and strength. This is huge in terms of correction in the skin, as those happy new skin cells push their way up to the surface, to replace the damaged ones that are wreaking havoc on your skin. Glycolic also has the ability to remove blackheads and combat cases of mild acne. It is essentially an all-inclusive chemical peel.

Glycolic has become a common ingredient in many skin care products, but, bear in mind, the percentage of glycolic in these products is far less than in a professional treatment. In terms of correction, it is ideal to use within a home care regimen to compliment routine professional peels; however, using a home care product alone can take much longer to obtain desired results.

Chemical peels of these depths generally do not have side effects other than a mild tingling feeling during the application. After a peel, a client can have some redness or mild dehydration of the skin as the cells respond, but keeping the skin moisturized will aide in that effect. Makeup can even be applied after a peel if needed, and if anything, will go on more smoothly than pre-peel. The single most important rule for chemical peels is the skin must be protected daily with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, available in most moisturizers and makeup. Skin is susceptible to burn after a peel, as the top layer of skin has been thoroughly exfoliated, and those happy healthy skin cells from below are seeing new life. Additionally, clients who are seeing progress in cases of pigmentation, can literally “un-do” any progress being made by not protecting the skin, and can actually make existing spots darker, so sunscreen is essential to the progress being made when using chemical peels for correction.

Lastly, be sure to seek the consultation of a skincare professional with questions on chemical peels and how to achieve goals for your skin. There is an abundance of products deemed as professional peels that are sold and used improperly, and in many cases end up doing more harm than good. Although chemical peels are safe when used correctly, it’s vital that they be administered under the supervision of a professional that has been adequately trained in this area.

Tara Ichelson is a licensed Esthetician and Owner of Pretique SkinSpa in Bettendorf, Iowa. She offers professional luxury facials and skin treatments at practical prices, and is available for free skin consultations. Tara is available Tuesdays–Saturdays by appointment only. Call 563-650-0290 to schedule an appointment or a free skin consultation. Visit www.pretiqueskinspa.com to view a service menu.