Chemical peels can fit into your routine in a few ways. You can choose the slow and steady approach, which involves using very superficial or superficial peels frequently. If you’d like faster results, you can use a medium peel to eliminate as much damage as possible in the shortest time. This is a riskier choice, and there can be serious complications. But if it goes well, you can potentially eliminate most of your damage quickly and then move onto a maintenance routine. You can also do a series of moderate strength peels that produce a strong superficial or weak medium effect. Another option is to use a medium strength solution as a spot treatment while treating the surrounding skin with a superficial peel.
Slow and Steady
Using very superficial and mild superficial peels at home can produce gradual results with very little down time. Although most skin damage is in the dermis, which remains intact, these peels still promote collagen production, increase cellular turnover, and stimulate the skin’s natural healing response. Though it takes much longer to see results, some dermatologists and researchers believe that you can get the equivalent results from regular applications of very superficial peels over a long time as you’ll get from a single medium level peel. This may also be true for alpha hydroxy acid lotions and creams, but this theory is still up for debate. Some people with deep scars, wrinkles, or stretch marks never get significant improvement, but others do. If you have relatively minor damage, like fine lines, shallow acne scars, or tiny stretch marks, you may experience total elimination with this method, though it will typically take 12-18 months.
Weakening the skin barrier is one problem you may run into with doing frequent superficial peels. The skin barrier takes approximately 4 days to recover after a peel. Many people who take this approach tend to do a peel once or twice a week. This essentially eliminates the natural skin barrier for as long as you are on this regimen, which, though not advised, some skin care enthusiasts do permanently. If you take the slow and steady approach, you should use a barrier restoring moisturizer daily, and try to limit your peels to once a week. It’s also a good idea to take a several weeklong break every few months.
Another disadvantage to this routine is chronic inflammation. Inflammation is one of the major contributors to the aging process and should be minimized. Damaging inflammation isn’t always visible; don’t assume it isn’t occurring because you don’t see any redness or swelling. By constantly performing mild peels, you run the risk of keeping your skin excessively inflamed. This won’t produce long term damage if it only occurs for a year or less, but the slow and steady approach isn’t an appropriate lifelong routine. While on this routine, use products and supplements that contain a lot of antioxidants to help offset the inflammatory side effects.
Strong, Riskier Peels
You can get dramatic results from a medium peel in a short time span, but there is a greater risk of complications and longer down time. You can’t wear make up until all of the skin has completely healed, which can take up to two weeks. During this recovery time, many people are self conscious about their unsightly appearance, so taking a week off of work is common. The peel can also go wrong. Sometimes people develop an infection, which will often cause scarring. You can also develop pigmentation problems and be left with an uneven skin tone. Despite the risks, the results from medium peels can be dramatic, especially for facial damage like wrinkles and acne scars. If you’d like to do a medium peel at home, seek out advice on skin care forums. Look for users that have similar skin types and skin damage and that have performed this type of peel at home. Many people are happy that they’ve done this strength of peel and saved lots of money.
Series of Peels
The best approach may be to split the difference, and do a series of moderate strength peels. Many peel kits give a strong superficial or almost medium peel. The results are less intense, but so are the risks. You typically won’t peel enough to need time off work, but there will be unsightly flaking and you can’t wear make up while you’re peeling. You can often use these peels every 2 to 3 weeks, if the skin recovers within a week of each peel. Some users start to experience stronger results with each peel at this frequency, most likely because the skin exposed after the first peels is temporarily thinner and more sensitive than normal, so the peels penetrate deeper. If you find the later peels too strong, wait longer between peels so the skin has more time to recover.
Use a skin barrier repair cream to moisturize after your peels, and don’t use strong retinoids or other irritating skin actives until the skin has healed. Copper peptides work well with this routine, because they are designed to accelerate healing and are generally non-irritating. This routine should only be done for 3 to 4 months before taking a several month long break. At that point, you’ll be able to evaluate your improvement and determine if you’d like to do another series of peels. If you haven’t seen any improvement, you may need to do a true strength medium peel. If you didn’t have an optimal diet during your treatments, it could have sabotaged your results. Don’t overlook the importance of nutrition when you are trying to rebuild your skin, especially when you are using this type of resurfacing technique.
You can also use the stronger solutions as a spot treatment on individual lines, scars, and stretch marks. This allows you to minimize your risk and recovery time. Instead of a large area, like your entire face, being covered with dead, brown skin, you’ll only have patches that will peel. The rest of your skin and its barrier will remain intact. If you really want to do a medium peel at home, this is probably the best way to get great results without exposing the skin that is in relatively good condition to unnecessary risk. It’s also a lot more comfortable than having a large area covered with itchy, inflexible dead skin. Example: Treat your entire face with an 8% TCA peel, and go over age spots and wrinkles with a 20% TCA solution.
Remember, gradually increasing the strength of your peels is critical. Use low strength peels for the first few treatments. Human skin is highly variable, so there’s no way to tell how you will react. Some people experience no peeling with a 30% glycolic acid, while others may unexpectedly end up with a medium depth peel. Most home peel kits are safe to use, but some sites sell very strong peel solutions. Don’t assume that there aren’t any risks just because you can purchase it online.
Face vs. Body Peels
Facial skin reacts differently to chemical peels than body skin. It tends to peel and heal faster than body skin. Neck skin takes much longer to recover than the face, even though the skin is similar and so close to the face. Most people peel their face and neck in separate sessions. If you do a peel on your arms, you may peel for up to 3 weeks, which can be very frustrating if you have a special event. Areas with thicker skin will typically need higher stronger solutions than the face to get the same effect. There are exceptions however. Some individuals find than their neck and chest skin is more sensitive than their face. As always, perform patch tests and start with low concentrations, gradually working your way up to minimize the risk of experiencing complications.
Skin damage from stretch marks or depressed scars usually indicates deep tears in the skin matrix, often extending throughout the entire dermis. It typically takes stronger peels and more time to resolve stretch marks and body scars than facial skin damage. This type of damage often needs aggressive treatment to produce results, though some improvement is usually seen with milder methods. When treating individual scars and deep stretch marks, try to only apply the peel solution to the actual mark and use petroleum jelly to protect the surrounding normal skin. For areas covered with many small stretch marks, this is impractical and peeling the entire area is sufficient.
Treating Multiple Areas
Do not peel large areas of skin simultaneously. If you have stretch marks on your thighs, butt, and stomach, each should be treated in a separate session, at least a week apart. For most people, multiple areas of skin can regenerate at the same time, but for some, treating too many areas in a certain time frame can overwhelm the body’s healing process. If you have multiple areas with skin damage, it may be best prioritize a few that bother you the most and work on those first. Diet and supplementation is extremely important when treating several areas at once. The regenerating cells need ample nutrients and minimal chronic inflammation to heal properly.
The chemicals in peels can be absorbed through the skin and reach the bloodstream, and peeling too much skin in one session can lead to medical complications. This is especially true with products containing salicylic acid, which when absorbed can lead to an overdose called salicylism, or aspirin poisoning. Most chemical peel kits assume you are only peeling your face and will not give information about using the peel solution on other areas, or how many square inches per treatment is safe. Drink lots of water after a chemical peel to ensure proper hydration.
You are more likely to run into problems using stronger peels, which have higher concentrations of active ingredients to be absorbed. Using superficial peels on multiple areas is safer than using stronger peels that have a longer recovery period.
Dark Skin Tones
People with dark skin tones can use chemical peels, but they are at an increased risk of developing irregular pigmentation. Sometimes the treated area heals darker than it was before. Many people with dark skin get good results with a TCA peel. Strong concentrations of hydroxy acids seem to be more risky. Very superficial peels and light superficial peels are the least likely to produce this effect, so the slow and steady approach may be the best if this is a big concern for you.
You can minimize your risk of experiencing complications be using proper pre and post peel care. Using a mild alpha hydroxy acid products and 4% hydroquinone cream twice a day for 4 weeks prior the peel is important for medium to dark skin tones. Consistently using a strong sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection before and after the peel is also critical. Even mild sun exposure can create permanent pigmentations issues.
It’s generally not a good idea to attempt a medium peel at home if you have dark skin, but some of the TCA kits giving almost-medium results have been used successfully. Ideally, you should go to a professional, preferably someone who has experience dealing with skin of African descent.