Chemical Peels for Acne: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re struggling with frequent breakouts, know that you’re not alone. Acne is a common skin issue for many people at different stages of their lives. Among the plethora of treatments available, chemical peels have emerged as a compelling option. They do more than just manage breakouts; they can also minimize acne scarring and improve the overall quality of your skin. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how chemical peels work, what ingredients are best for treating acne and other key considerations to help you make an informed decision.

What Are Chemical Peels?

A chemical peel is a cosmetic treatment that uses an acid-based solution to remove the top layer of dead skin cells. Peels encourage the growth of new skin to replace the old, which results in a more even skin tone and smoother texture. There are various types of chemical peels, ranging from superficial peels to medium-depth peels and less-common deep peels, each with their unique benefits, outcomes and required recovery time.

How Can Chemical Peels Help with Acne?

Chemical peels offer multiple advantages for those looking to improve their overall skin health and are well-established as effective treatments for mild-to-moderate acne. Let’s delve into the key benefits and how they specifically target various aspects of acne and related skin issues.

1. Powerful exfoliation

Chemical peels are highly effective in exfoliating the skin’s surface. Acids such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid penetrate the skin to break the bonds between dead skin cells. This encourages the shedding of this upper layer and allows new skin cells to come to the surface. By removing these dead skin cells, chemical peels clear out clogged pores, which are often the culprits behind frequent breakouts.

2. Oil and blemish control

Peels containing ingredients like salicylic acid can reduce levels of sebum, the oil produced by your skin that contributes to breakouts. Salicylic acid is also comedolytic, meaning it prevents the formation of pimples caused by dead skin cells and sebum becoming trapped in your pores.

3. Skin resurfacing

Acne may leave behind scars or create an uneven skin texture. Chemical peels treat both of these concerns through the process of skin resurfacing. Essentially, as the skin heals post-peel, the process stimulates collagen production, which helps smooth out acne scars and create a more even skin tone.

4. Reduced post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

One common aftermath of acne is hyperpigmentation, or dark spots, which can remain on the skin long after the acne has cleared. Ingredients like glycolic acid and hydroquinone are known to be effective in treating hyperpigmentation. They work by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for producing melanin, thereby lightening the dark spots over time.

5. Improved product absorption

The process of removing the outer layers of dead skin cells makes your skin more receptive to anti-acne skin care products, reducing the likelihood of further breakouts. A monthly or bimonthly in-office chemical peel can greatly contribute to the efficacy of your at-home skin care routine.

What’s the Best Chemical Peel for Acne?

Determining the best chemical peel for you depends on various factors, including the severity of your acne, your skin type and any other skin concerns you may have like hyperpigmentation or fine lines. 

Generally, you’ll want to opt for peels with the following ingredients:

  • Salicylic acid: a beta-hydroxy acid highly recommended for acne-prone skin. It’s oil-soluble, penetrates deeply into the pores and reduces sebum production. 
  • Glycolic acid: an alpha-hydroxy acid popular for its ability to treat acne while also addressing signs of aging and hyperpigmentation. 
  • Trichloroacetic acid (TCA): a powerful acid used to treat moderate to severe acne scarring
  • Kojic acid: fades post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and fights acne-causing bacteria 
  • Jessner’s solution: a combination of resorcinol, salicylic acid and lactic acid is known to be particularly effective for acne and acne scars.

At Align Aesthetics & Wellness, we use the Perfect Derma Peel–a synergistic combination of acids, minerals and powerful antioxidants like glutathione and vitamin C.

What to Expect at Your Chemical Peel

Before undergoing a peel, you may need to stop using certain skin care products like retinol. Regular use of a sunscreen with a high SPF is a must to protect your skin from sunburn and sun damage.

On the day of your appointment, you’ll first discuss your goals and skin history with your aesthetician. You’ll likely discuss what acne products you’ve used in the past and any other acne treatments you’ve undergone. Your provider will use that information to decide what level of peel is most appropriate for you.

The peel itself starts with your aesthetician cleansing the skin, followed by the application of the peel solution. They’ll then apply the peel, often in multiple layers, then either leave it on the skin or apply a neutralizing solution. You may feel a tingling or burning sensation–in most cases, this is normal, but speak up if you become uncomfortable.

Side effects and downtime

After a peel, you may experience redness, peeling and some discomfort. For superficial peels, the downtime is relatively minimal. Medium-depth peels containing TCA may require up to two weeks of recovery as your skin flakes and peels off.

For best results, keep your skin moisturized after treatment and follow all instructions given by your provider. You may be given a specific moisturizer or serum to use in the weeks following treatment. 

Unless otherwise instructed, avoid products containing retinoids or chemical exfoliants while your skin heals. And above all, avoid excess sun exposure and wear a high-SPF sunscreen to protect your new skin.

How Often Should I Get a Chemical Peel for Acne?

The frequency with which you should get a chemical peel for acne largely depends on the type of peel, its strength and your goals for the treatment. 

For superficial peels using alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid, you might be able to safely have them as often as every 2–4 weeks. These are milder and generally well-tolerated, making them suitable for frequent use. A superficial peel every few weeks can help reduce sebum levels in your skin, tame breakouts and fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Medium depth peels administered to treat acne scarring are stronger and typically require a longer period of downtime for the skin to heal. For these, you may need to wait 2–3 months between sessions. It’s also common to have a series of treatments to achieve the desired results, followed by maintenance peels at less frequent intervals.

Deep peels are rarely used for acne and are usually not recommended due to the extensive recovery time and potential side effects.

Final Thoughts

If you’re navigating the many options for tackling acne, you’ll find chemical peels are an effective route worth considering. They offer a multi-faceted approach by not only addressing active acne but also tackling common after-effects like acne scars and hyperpigmentation. 

From mild exfoliating peels to more intense options, there’s a chemical peel that fits your skincare needs and lifestyle. Coupled with other treatments and at-home care, regular acne-fighting peels can be an integral part of a holistic acne treatment strategy. 
Before diving in, it’s crucial to consult a skin expert who can tailor the treatment to your specific skin type and concerns. And remember, post-treatment care is just as essential—keeping your skin moisturized and well-protected from the sun will go a long way in sustaining your new, blemish-free look.

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