Fall is Coming...Peel Your Way to Flawless Skin

Credit: Harry Vorsteher/Corbis

There’s no better way to perk up dull skin than with a chemical peel. A beauty staple since the days of Cleopatra (who was said to bathe in spoiled milk, the basis of lactic acid), the formulations and peeling agents used today may have been adapted to meet modern-day beauty standards but the basic principle of exfoliation for an immaculate complexion remains a steady constant.

Light Peels - alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) and betahydroxy acids

Good for:  Lightly refreshing the skin

You’ll notice:  Subtly smoother, more evenly toned skin and less blemishes

Medium Peels- trichloroacetic acid (TCA)

Good for: Correcting moderate wrinkles, lines and sun damage

You’ll notice: Significantly smoother skin that’s more even in tone with fewer lines and spots

Deep Peels - phenol acid

Good for: Extreme resurfacing

You’ll notice: Drastically smoother skin sans wrinkles and pigmentation

Understanding the Strengths: Just like how ingredients, such as retinoids and vitamin C, are available in different strengths, so are the peeling agents used in chemical peels.

On the Low End: Each acid ranges in strength—single digits and 10 percent concentrations are on the more gentle side; 20 to 70 rank on the higher end.

Stronger Peels Offer an Advantage: The higher the percentage of the acid used in a chemical peel, the more damage reversal it can do for your   skin.

Formulation Counts: “The different percentages are like the difference between using an over-the-counter product versus a prescription-strength version,” says Santa Ana, CA, dermatologist Tony Nakhla, MD. Take, for example, glycolic acid. “It can come in different strengths and pH levels, or combined with other ingredients. These factors help to determine how efficacious the product is, and how deep it can penetrate,” says Boca Raton, FL, aesthetician Cheryl Staurowsky.

Skin Basics: Every 28 days or so our skin sheds—a natural healthy process that is essential. “Stimulating the natural exfoliation cycle purposely removes the outer layer of cells to improve the texture of your skin faster,” says Dr. Nakhla. That’s where exfoliating chemical peels come in. “Superficial peels act as a means of exfoliation, but at a stronger level than what can be achieved with a manual exfoliator or scrub,” says Dr. Nakhla.

How deep a peel can go:

Light peels reach just the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin to lighten discoloration, transform texture and fight breakouts

Medium strength peels work on the middle dermis or the layer of skin between the epidermis and the dermis for more serious resurfacing.

Deep peels get down to the dermis, the lowest layers of the skin, to dramatically soften lines and wrinkles

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