Chemical exfoliation, or using a chemical peel refers to applying a higher strength exfoliant that has a pH generally around 2.0. When people do their own chemical peels at home, they’re usually using the lower strength stuff, not what you might be getting at a clinic. It’s stronger than an exfoliating cream but safe enough to use on your own and the products with a pH of 2.0 tend to work best.
The idea behind chemical exfoliation is to make the skin “blister” and ultimately peel off, leaving a new, fresh layer of skin that is smoother and less wrinkled, with a more glowy appearance.
Chemical peels are used mostly on the face but you can apply them to neck and hands as well.
They have some advantages over physical exfoliants, since the latter have to be physically rubbed against the skin which doesn’t always yield even results and can leave the skin irritated and can result in micro-tears in the epidermis.
Chemical exfoliants have become so widespread and popular because they have numerous benefits such as:
As long as you follow the instructions and use them safely, you’ll see the benefits for yourself and understand what all the hype is about. They’re a great addition to beauty routines as they help with so many common skin problems and, along with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, help users maintain a youthful appearance.
Since there’s such a huge market for chemical exfoliants you’ll have lots and lots of options to chose from and it shouldn’t be too hard to find one that’s just right for your skin type and needs. You can have your pick from products ranging in strength from the milder, more superficial products to the ones that can offer deep resurfacing.
As a beginner, we recommend you start off with the mild products
Alpha Hydroxy Acids or AHAs refer to chemical exfoliants derived from natural substances, most commonly citrus fruits, sugar cane, apples and grapes. So if you decide to try a glycolic acid face wash this means the formula was made from sugar cane extracts. AHA’s are the mildest option available when it comes to chemical exfoliants and are primarily a favorite towards the treatment of fine lines, dry looking skin, mild pigmentation and acne.
The AHA chemical peels that contain lactic acid are very hydrating and, because of the large molecular structure, tends to be less irritating to more sensitive skin.
The ones with glycolic acid, on the other hand, have a smaller molecular structure and, because of this, can permeate the skin quicker and deeper but can also be more irritating if not used carefully. When applied, they feel hotter, or spicier, if you’d like, and they’re used more commonly by professionals. Novices should maybe try a face wash first to see if their skin can handle it.
Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are the stronger and slightly more complicated version of AHA’s. They’re lipid based (oils, fatty acids) and the most widely used among them are the ones containing salicylic acid. BHA’s are preferred by people who want products to help them keep their oily skin under control, they have congested pores or they’re prone to acne.
Since they’re oil based, and not water based like the AHA exfoliants, they get deeper into the skin and can reach the acne causing bacteria. The formula also manages to dissolve the mixture of sebum and dead skin that frequently leads to breakouts.
Chemical exfoliants can result in redness of the skin, scarring or skin infections so always read the instruction and apply them as written. It’s also a good idea to look up a few tutorials online and see how more experienced users do it.
When trying a new product, always to a patch test to see if you have an allergy to any of the ingredients. You can do this by taking a small amount of the product and applying it to your wrist or inner arm. Even if you’ve used the product before, the sensitivity of your skin can vary so, before doing the chemical peel, apply a small amount close to your ear or under your chin.
Your routine should start with washing your face and maybe applying some petroleum jelly to more sensitive areas like the corners of your lips and your nostrils.
If your chemical exfoliant came with a prep solution, apply that first and wait for it to dry and then you can apply the product with a small brush. Make sure it’s even or the results might be inconsistent.
Most of the chemical peels used at home are supposed to be left on the skin for no more that 2 minutes, but you should follow their specific instructions. If your skin starts getting irritated before the time it says on the label, wash it off.
After removing the peel, apply some moisturizer, either what you normally use or a more thoroughly hydrating solution and you should keep applying it throughout the day to avoid letting your skin dry out.
In the following days, your skin will be more sensitive to the sun than usual, so be sure to use sunscreen before you go outside. You’ll need extra protection from UVA and UVB rays. We recommend something with an SPF above 30 and you should also temporarily limit the time you spend outside.