The description on the bottle or package promises to revitalize your skin, to reduce the look of age spots and to erase fine lines or wrinkles. But, can an at-home facial peel really live up to its promises?
Typically, the ingredients found in peels offered on the drugstore shelf or at the cosmetics counter are much more gentle and mild than the ingredients found in a chemical peel you would get at a doctor’s office. That’s a good thing, as ingredients such as trichloroacetic acid actually burn the skin as they work and should only be applied by a professional.
While you can’t expect dramatic results from them, at home peels can be worthwhile as a maintenance product, as long as you choose carefully and avoid overuse.
What’s in Those Peels
The facial peels you can purchase over-the-counter typically contain low concentrations of beta hydroxy or alpha hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid or lactic acid. Some peels contain a mix of acids, such as both salicylic and glycolic acid.
Often, a mix of different acids means better results and less skin irritation than using an at-home peel that has a higher concentration of a single ingredient.
A chemical peel at a medical spa or doctor’s office typically contains different ingredients that one you can buy for home use or it has higher concentrations of the same ingredients.
For example, a light chemical peel typically contains glycolic acid or another type of alpha hydroxy acid, but in a higher concentration. The peel is also usually left on the skin for longer than you would or should leave an at-home peel on your skin.
Stronger ingredients found in peels used at a doctor’s office include trichloroacetic acid, tretinoic acid, and phenol. The Obagi Blue Peel, for example, contains between a 10 and 20 percent concentration of trichloroacetic acid, which helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles, even out tone and reduce the size of pores.
Depending on the concentration of the peel, you might need to be under sedation or general anesthesia. For example, you might be able to tolerate an in-office peel with 10 percent trichloroacetic acid while fully awake.
But, you may need sedation if getting a stronger peel with a 35 percent concentration. Deeper peels, such as those with an 88 percent phenol concentration, are typically performed while you’re under general anesthesia.
Precautions for Home Peels
While peels with a stronger concentration of active ingredients should really only be applied by a professional, you might find some higher strength peels available online.
It’s usually a good idea to avoid purchasing those products, as the risk of causing burns or other injury to your face is great. Even when you have a higher concentration chemical peel performed by an experienced surgeon, there’s a chance for discomfort, redness and complications.
Choosing and Using an At-Home Peel
An at-home product can be a great way to maintain the results after an in-office treatment. Before using any product, you should talk to your surgeon to make sure it won’t cause irritation. Be wary of any products, particularly those sold online without a prescription that claim to be for professional use or experienced users only.
If you’re interested in over-the-counter products, your best bet is to look at reputable brands. The format you choose is up to you. Some home products come in the form of a mask that you let sit on the skin for a few minutes, then rinse away.
Others come in the form of pre-soaked pads or towelettes that you rub all over your face. A pre-soaked pad can help you avoid putting to much of the product on a single area of your face.
Typically, it’s a good idea to follow the product with a serum or lotion that contains retinol and with a moisturizer. If you’re headed outside, make sure to pick a lotion or moisturizer with sunscreen, as hydroxy acids can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
Dr. Jessica Kulak at the Naderi Center in Virginia and Maryland is an aging face specialist. She can discuss the benefits and risks of at-home peels and help you decide if a chemical peel is right for you. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Kulak, call (703) 481-0002 in Virginia or (301) 222-2020 in Maryland today.