While chemical peels offer you a nice bridge between topical beauty products and aesthetic procedures, you should keep in mind that there are many types of peels available. They are generally considered successful in helping to reduce wrinkles, pigmentation or discoloration, scarring or problems with skin texture. And the process involves little or no downtime. But how do you know which one to choose for your skin type? Our experts give you the information to help you make the right decision.

How It Works

"A peel may be time- or layer-dependent, natural or chemical," explains somatologist Sonette Donker of Skin Id. "It is the application of a chemical solution to induce a healing process in the skin and it is used to improve and smooth the texture of the facial skin by removing its damaged outer layers," adds Dr Kamlen Pillay, medical director of the Wembley Medispa.

Peels work on each layer of skin, all the way down to the basal layer where healthy new cells are generated. They accelerate the cell removal process, rejuvenating your skin. By removing excessive dead cells, you can help eliminate the layer of skin that enhances your wrinkles, pigmentation, age spots and congested pores, and increase cell turnover for a fresher and healthier-looking skin.

Description: Chemical Peels for a Youthful, Glowing Skin (Part 1)

"Peeling promotes collagen and elastin synthesis, thickening and re-elastisising your skin," says Donker. "It also helps your natural acids attract more moisture into the skin, plumping out wrinkles."

Concentration Is Key

Some peels contain stronger active ingredients than others; these allow the skin to be treated on a deeper level by removing more than one layer of skin. "Peels that have a higher concentration of natural acid, such as 40% to 90%, offer more rapid results, but you need to build up your skin's resistance before tackling such a strong peel," advises Donker.

Jacqui Faucitt, CEO of RegimA, explains that light to medium chemical peels are more suitable for patients with finely wrinkled faces, sun-damaged skin, acne, scars and uneven pigmentation. She says it's not just the percentage of a peel that is important, but the pH level, too. "Usually the solution should be at a pH of 2,5 or less."

Pillay adds: "In South Africa, superficial peels may be performed by non-physicians. Medium and deep peels should be administered by doctors only."

Types of Peels

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are naturally occurring carboxylic acids. They are the mildest of the peel formulas and produce light peels for the treatment of fine wrinkles, areas of dryness, uneven pigmentation and acne.

Alpha hydroxy acids can also be mixed with a facial wash or cream in lesser concentrations, as part of a daily skincare regimen, to improve the skin's texture.

“Peeling helps your natural acids attract more moisture into the skin, plumping out wrinkles”

Glycolic Acid is a fruit acid derived from sugar cane and prepared synthetically for clinical use. "It comes in three strengths: 30%, 50% and 70%," explains Faucitt. Glycolic acid is used for photo damage, fine lines or rough textures, and to treat grade 1 or 2 acne. These peels are usually light, non-toxic, and have few complications.

Lactic Acid occurs naturally in sour milk. After penetrating the skin, lactic acid is converted automatically to pyruvic acid. 'At identical concentrations, lactic acid destroys the epidermis more slowly than glycolic acid, which could lead to less irritation on the skin," says Faucitt.

She explains that concentrations of lactic acid of 10% to 20% or stronger will stimulate skin regeneration and renew the epidermis cells. At a concentration of 50% to 70%, lactic acid produces the same amount of exfoliation as glycolic acid. Lactic acid also improves skin hydration and suppleness.

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) comes in the form of colorless or white crystals, and has a distinctive, sharp, pungent odour. "It's a common peeling agent, which comes in a variety of strengths, usually increasing in increments of 5%," says Faucitt.

TCA is considered non-toxic, easy-to-use, and has the ability to create a variety of results. It penetrates the papillary dermis or the upper reticular dermis when a "full frost" is achieved. The "frost" is the result of the chemical TCA coagulating the protein in the skin. TCA provides a predictable medium-depth peel. It is versatile and can be applied to all parts of the body. However, Donker points out that TCA peels are not suitable for all skin types; if you have olive or darker skin, or brown eyes, you should stay away from high percentages of this peel.

Jessner's Solution is a combination of three acids: 14% salicylic acid, 14% resorcinol and 14% lactic acid in an ethanol base. "If treating acne, the percentage of salicylic acid will be increased," says Faucitt. This solution is frequently used in combination with other acids to improve the result. Jessner's can be combined with glycolic acid to provide a deeper peel, but this is more risky, as the glycolic acid needs to be neutralized.

Phenol Peel is the deepest peel that can be performed. "It gives the most dramatic results, but it is also the most dangerous," says Faucitt. Its indications are limited to cases that cannot be treated with other peels. If an AHA or TCA peel can be used, it will be used over a phenol peel without hesitation.

Points to Consider

Depending on the peel used, doctors may prescribe results-driven, post-peel homecare products to maintain the results or alleviate the peeling process.

"In some cases, petroleum jelly will be prescribed, as it creates an impermeable layer on the surface of the skin and prevents the water in the epidermis from evaporating," explains Faucitt. Water accumulates under the layer of petroleum jelly and provides instant, natural hydration that helps relieve the itching caused by the keratinocytes drying out.

Description: Chemical Peels for a Youthful, Glowing Skin (Part 2)

Donker advises that when choosing a peel, you should ask what ingredients the treatment contains. The safest peels contain not only natural alpha hydroxy acids, but they should also contain healing, repairing and anti-inflammatory ingredients.

Faucitt adds that while lighter skin tones can tolerate any kind of peel, the darker your skin, the more risks you may encounter. "It is recommended not to go beyond the papillary dermis with darker-skinned patients, to avoid hyperpigmentation," she advises.


Pre- and post-care are extremely important to ensure safe, effective and lasting results. By preparing your skin and aiding in the healing process, you can prevent possible complications.

According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, as the chemical peel removes the top layer of your skin, it can create a slight burning sensation. The level of pain is directly related to the intensity of the peel, and this sensation can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The academy also cautions that you can experience peeling akin to that following sunburn. Direct sunlight should be avoided, as well as any excessive or needless touching of the face.

Remember that a certain degree of redness will probably occur, as the chemicals used in this process are abrasive and strong - they are effectively "exfoliating" the top layer of your skin. The less intensive the peel, the shorter the period of redness, and this can last from a few hours to several days, depending on how strong, or intensive, your peel was.

"Correct homecare is critical," urges Donker. "You must use a day product with a sunscreen, particularly if you want to eliminate pigmentation or sun-spots." At night, she advises using a product that contains natural AHAs, to maintain the action of the peel. However, ensure that your day cream does not contain AHA, as this may increase sun-sensitivity, which may in turn cause pigmentation.

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