Using Chemical Peels for Acne Scars

Acne scarring is one of the most frustrating skin complaints.  Thankfully, you can use chemical peels for acne scars to reduce and possible eliminate them.  Chemical peels remove the first few layers of damaged skin to expose fresher, smoother skin below.  Peeling can cause damage if not done correctly, so it important to learn how to use peels properly.  Peels will work better on some types of acne scars than it will on others, but virtually all scars should see some improvement over time.

Most chemical peels for acne scars will contain alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic or lactic acid.  These acids are very strong in high concentrations and can burn your skin.  It’s important to give your skin time to adjust to using very acidic products like peels.  Don’t start off using the strongest peel you can find.  You won’t be able to eliminate your acne scars with just one peel, so don’t try to rush results by using a super strong peel.  You’ll probably end up doing more damage.  Regular peeling over a few months is a more effective acne scar removal treatment.

If you are still dealing with frequent breakouts, try to get them under control before using a chemical peel for acne scars.  A salicylic acid peel might be a better choice for people with active acne because this acid is oil soluble and very useful to get rid of clogged pores.  One of the risks of using chemical peels for acne sufferers is spreading bacteria around the face and causing more breakouts.  Peels also have a tendency “bring up” any pimples that are forming under the skin but are not yet visible, so temporary acne flare-ups after a peel are normal.

You can use chemicals peels for acne scars at home instead of visiting a professional.  Glycolic acid and lactic acid are both AHAs, but lactic acid is considered the milder of the two, and is a better choice for dark skin colors because it is less likely to have a lightening effect.  Start using low levels of glycolic or lactic acid to prepare your skin for your first peel.  Try using a glycolic or lactic acid lotion for a few weeks or so before moving up to an alpha hydroxy acid serum.  Many of these products will list the concentration as a percentage.  Many people can start off using a 10% concentration daily without issue. If you have sensitive skin, try finding a product containing 5-7%, or use a 10% every other or every third day and gradually work your way up.  Once you’ve been using a 10% AHA product daily for 2-3 weeks, your skin should be ready for it’s first peel.

Start off with a 20% glycolic or lactic acid peel.  Salicylic acid is stronger at a lower percentage, so start with the mildest peel available, typically 10%.  You’ll get the best results from using chemical peels for acne scars consistently.  Try to use a peel weekly, or perhaps twice a week.  After your skin tolerates those well, gradually increase the strength of your peel.  Severe acne scaring will take much longer to improve than mild scarring and will need stronger peels.  The strongest AHA peels typically contain 50% – 70% lactic or glycolic acid.  Some facial skin will never be able to tolerate such high levels, so make sure to monitor your skin carefully after moving up in strength.

The basic principles of effective scar removal are removing the damaged skin and nourishing the fresh skin with repairing active ingredients.  Doing this over and over is the best way to get rid of acne scars.  It is a delicate balance of peeling and repairing, and everyone is different.  If you aren’t aggressive enough, you won’t remove enough damaged tissue to be effective.  If you are over aggressive, you’ll remove too much and your natural healing processes won’t be able to keep up.  Weekly or twice weekly peeling may not be possible for some users, or may be necessary to see any results for others.  You will customize your routine based on your skin’s response and will eventually find the right mix for you.  Make sure to add new products to your routine gradually, and accept that this will be a long process that can take more than a year for severe scarring.

Not all acne scars will respond the same to peeling.  If you have old acne scars, chances are they look better now than they did a few years ago.  Scars naturally get covered with smoother skin as they age.  When you start using chemical peels for acne scars they may actually look worse than they did originally, which can be very distressing.  This is because the smoother layer of skin as been removed and the real extent of the damage below is revealed.  This is normal and typical of old scars so don’t stop using peels because of it.  Shallow acne scars will respond better to peeling than deeper “ice pick” or “box car” scarring.  Sometimes deep scars will need to be needled or excised professionally to get good results, although all scars should see some improvement with regular peeling.  If you have any keloid scarring, which is where the scar tissue goes beyond the border of the original wound and has bubbled appearance and rubbery texture, you should not use chemical peels at all.  Once you have developed keloid scarring anywhere on your body, you are more prone to having keloids form after any skin damage.  Seek professional help when dealing with this type of scarring.

Normal chemical peel side effects include redness, flaky skin, stinging, and sun sensitivity.  You should not experience pain or bleeding.  If you have over exfoliated with chemical peels, you need to let your skin heal completely before repeating a peel.  Try applying pure aloe or other soothing botanicals like oatmeal, lavender, or chamomile to soothe irritation and reduce damage.  Don’t pick at any scabs or black marks; let them slough off naturally.  You may need to start the acclimation process over again and go back to using mild products like lotions, depending on how much you’ve burned your skin.

Using chemical peels for acne scars is only half the battle.  The newly exposed skin needs to be protected and nourished so that it heals properly.  Botanical extracts and antioxidants, copper peptides, and low levels of Vitamin C and retinoids are a great way to enhance your skin’s own healing processes.  A good diet and taking vitamins for skin care internally can also improve your results.  Daily sunblock use is essential.  Fresh skin and skin treated with alpha hydroxy acids is much more sensitive to sun exposure.  It burns and discolors much easier than normal skin for around 2 weeks.  Since you’ll be peeling frequently, your skin will be sensitive to sunlight for quite some time.  Be careful when using other forms of exfoliation or strong skin care products after a peel.  You may need to wait a few days or a week before trying a microdermabrasion treatment, or applying strong Vitamin C or retinoid products.
It can take a long time, but you can actually completely eliminate some acne scarring.  Most people will experience significant improvement, except on very deep scars.  Be sure to add products into your routine slowly and gradually increase the strength and frequency of your peels.  Giving your skin the proper nutrients to heal and protecting it from sun exposure is critical.  Using chemical peels for acne scars can be extremely effective.