Many individuals hear “chemical peels” or “facials” and think: Isn’t that for spas? I need lasers – not products on my skin. Chemical peels and facials are actually the 3rd most popular noninvasive cosmetic procedures (with botox and fillers being 1st and 2nd most popular).
Chemical Peels are serious treatments that treat many skin care concerns such as hyperpigmentation, acne, signs of aging, dull skin, and more. They are relatively lower-cost treatments compared to lasers and microneedling but works effectively for similar concerns.
So what exactly is a chemical peel and how does it differ from a facial? Why get a chemical peel when you can get a laser treatment instead? Find out the answers to these and more below!
What is a Chemical Peel?
Chemical peel is also known as chemoexfoliation which is a process that uses specific ingredients and methods to strip away the damaged layer of your skin in a controlled manner to reveal a healthy new layer. This causes your skin to undergo a natural wound healing and skin rejuvenating process including the stimulation of collagen and elastin to improve skin texture and tone.
Chemical peels are divided into 3 categories: superficial peels (penetrates to the epidermis), medium-depth peels (penetrates to the epidermis and papillary dermis), and deep peels (penetrates to the mid-reticular dermis). Chemical peels are often done in “passes” where 1 pass is one layer of peel that has been applied. Multiple layers of passes are additive and results in deeper peeling which is particularly useful for those with thicker skin and/or want stronger peeling. However, this does not mean multiple layers of superficial peels will penetrate any deeper – the active ingredients will not penetrate further than they are formulated for no matter how many passes are applied.
The deeper the peel is, the more dramatic the results are. So why bother doing superficial peels if deeper peels produce more significant results? While the effects of deeper peels are more pronounced, it comes at the cost of longer recovery time and higher risk of scarring and pigmentation, especially if done incorrectly.
So what makes a chemical peel different than a facial treatment? Find out the difference in the next section.
What is a Facial?
Any type of facial skin treatment including chemical peels can be considered a facial as the basic steps of a facial treatment involves: cleansing the skin, applying specific products (depending on the skin concern), and providing hydration.
Facials do not necessarily need to include peeling components, and focuses on deeply cleaning your pores as well as providing nutrients and hydration to your skin. Your skin’s natural barrier will be restored, skin texture and tone is improved, and refreshes dull-looking skin. Depending on the clinic, facials can also include blackhead extractions. Facials can include peels (which a lot of them do) but tend to use much milder peels that penetrate the epidermis only – the outer most layer of your skin.
Since chemical peels and facials seem to be overlapping in some ways, how will you know which treatment to get?
Should I get a Chemical Peel or a Facial?
Deciding which treatment to get should be done in consultation with your skin care provider during your skin assessment. Many factors need to be considered such as epidermal thickness, skin type, skin concern, sensitivity etc. before determining the most appropriate treatment for you.
Chemical peels and facials are suitable for all skin types but there are contraindications which should be assessed and discussed with you by a skin care professional. Both treatments can be used to treat scars and pigmentation, photoaging, wrinkles, dull skin, skin texture and tone, calm redness and irritation, rejuvenate your skin, and more. However, chemical peels are recommended for deeper rooted or severe cases. Facials are generally less invasive so if you want to refresh your skin and don’t need to treat any specific concerns, a standard facial is ideal.
This does not mean facials are weaker and less effective than chemical peels since both treatments work on different concerns. Moreover it’s not to say one is exclusive of the other as many patients get both treatments to complement the effects of each other.
How often do I need Chemical Peels or Facials?
The answer varies as each patient has different skin types and severity of conditions, and different clinics will use different intensities, treatment protocols, and ingredients. All these factors affect how long a patient needs to wait in between each treatment.
Generally, a facial can be done weekly or on a monthly basis. Light peels may also be done once monthly; medium peels require about 4-6 months in between; and deeper peels may only be done once a year or every few years.
Patients should understand that chemical peels and facials are not a one-time treatment as the results are cumulative.
What can I expect after my Chemical peel or Facial treatment?
After a chemical peel or facial treatment, your skin might display similar symptoms to that of a sunburn (irritated, dry, and red skin). Your skin may also peel varying degrees for the next few days (depending on your own skin and the intensity of the treatment).
You should be using gentle products for the next few days or until your skin has fully peeled. Any retinol/retinoid products and exfoliants should not be used during this time. Your skin care provider will provide you with the recommended products that will best heal and compliment the results of your treatment.
Additionally, it is imperative that you wear sunscreen everyday as your skin will be very sensitive and not doing so puts you at risk of longer healing time, damage, and hyperpigmentation.
The time to fully heal will vary but generally, chemical peels will take longer to heal as it penetrates deeper into your skin (this can be anywhere from few days up to 2 weeks).
Ideally, your skin care provider will go over all the specific post-care instructions with you in detail.
Why can’t I do my own Chemical Peel at home?
You may see that certain peels use very common and familiar sounding ingredients such as glycolic acid and lactic acid. You may wonder: what is the point of doing the treatment at a clinic when you can just buy the products and do it yourself at home?
Firstly, over-the-counter ingredients have much lower percentage than the ones used in the clinics. This means that the peel you do at home will not give you the dramatic results that you are looking for. However, lower percentage peeling products may be used as a part of your daily skincare routine since they are gentle yet effective for everyday use.
Secondly, skin clinics use pharmaceutical-grade ingredients with lots of scientific studies behind their products. By using an over-the-counter peel at home, you are at risk of using ingredients that aren’t pure. In addition, the other ingredients in over-the-counter peels (that are not rigorously tested in labs) may irritate your skin.
Thirdly, peel providers have strict rules that only distribute high percentage peels to registered clinics. This is for safety concerns as you can burn your skin and cause more skin complications (especially darker skin tones which are more prone to hyperpigmentation). It is common for many individuals to burn their skin using over-the-counter products so you can imagine the risk involved with much higher percentages! By going to a clinic, you will be in the hands of a trained professional following strict protocols, trained by the peel manufacturers themselves.
Chemical Peels vs. Lasers
Chemical peels and lasers are both skin resurfacing treatments that removes the damaged skin layer to promote new and healthier skin cell growth. Both are commonly used to treat hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, minimize acne scars, and correct for photoaging. Though the treatments are similar in what they treat, the methods are different. Both treatments deliver great results but the choice depends on the issue, how fast you want the results, and your budget.
Since lasers are more specific and target deeper into your skin, it generally has more dramatic results but this comes at the cost of a higher price. Lasers also require a longer recovery time. Moreover, laser results generally last longer so you won’t need treatments regularly as much as chemical peels.
However, some patients do not need lasers and a lot of concerns could be fixed with chemical peels instead. Nevertheless, this does not mean chemical peels and lasers are interchangeable since these two treatments often go hand in hand for optimal results.
And in Closing…
Chemical peels and facials are powerful and popular treatments that are used by dermatologists and aestheticians all over the world. They are effective at treating various skin care concerns such as wrinkles, pigmentation, acne, dehydrated and dry skin, rosacea, and more. However, no matter what treatments you do, the best method is to prevent those issues from happening in the first place by keeping up with a proper daily skin care routine.