Having a chemical peel is a bit like sanding down the floorboards – you take off the top layer with all the scuffs and scratches to reveal a smoother surface underneath. So, the type of peel you need will depend on how deep the damage goes.
For more superficial wrinkles and blemishes, a dermatologist is likely to recommend alphahydroxy acids (AHA) or betahydroxy acids (BHA). These are milder chemical peels, which can take as little as half an hour with little or no recovery time. Common types of peels can be glycolic peels, glycolic facials, salicylic and mandolic acid peels, retinoic acid, and resorcinol.
If, on the other hand, you need more serious resurfacing, Phenol peels (also known as deep peels) use much harsher chemicals and will peel back your skin to a deeper level. This is considerably more painful and you’ll need to go under general anaesthetic. It might be a good idea to book some holiday from work too, because though the treatment only takes an hour or two, the time it takes for your skin to heal and swelling to subside can be as much as 10 days.
How does it work?
Before anyone reaches for the chemicals, you should have a detailed consultation to make sure you’re a good candidate for the treatment. Your dermatologist will spend some time examining your skin and asking questions about any medical conditions or allergies you might have.
If both you and your dermatologist are happy for treatment to go ahead, your face will be painted with a chemical solution to make your skin blister and peel. The amount of time the solution is left on your skin varies according to the type of chemical and also how much of the skin needs removing. For the milder peels, this will be between 10 minutes and half an hour.
The chemical solution is then removed, often with an abrasive cleanser to remove all of the peeled skin. If you’ve had a phenol peel you’ll need time to come round from the anaesthetic and you might need to keep your skin slicked in a protective coat of petroleum jelly.
Is it for me?
If you suffer from scars, blotches, wrinkles, age-spots, fine lines, dull skin or pre-cancerous growths, discarding the outer layers of skin can reduce their appearance or even remove the imperfections altogether. Chemical peels are also used to treat some forms of acne.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that even the mild peels will be painful - most people describe it as a burning or stinging sensation. So, if you’re the sensitive type, it might be an idea to look for something a little less intense.