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  • Writer's pictureDr. Preethi Nagaraj

Are chemical peels safe?

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

As soon as I advise patients to get a chemical peel done, the first question they ask me is regarding the safety of chemical peels. A chemical peel done by a dermatologist does not involve a “chemical” in the true sense. The molecules used in a peel at a dermatologist’s clinic are called alpha and beta hydroxy acids. These are derived from various plant sources.

Chemical peels done by a dermatologist is therefore absolutely safe.

Some of the examples of chemical peels and their sources are as follows-

Glycolic acid – sugarcane

Salicylic acid- willow bark

Malic acid- apple

Mandelic acid- bitter almonds

Lactic acid- Fermented milk

Tartaric acid- grapes

Did you know that Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen known for her beauty used to bath in sour milk to make her skin glow? And that French women used old wine to improve their skin tone? Sour milk has lactic acid and wine, tartaric acid, both forms of the modern “chemical peel”.

In Kochi, the awareness about the efficacy and safety of chemical peels is increasing and patients are opting for this procedure when they approach a dermatologist.

How a chemical peel works depends on how deep into the skin it can penetrate. This is based on factors like the strength of the peeling agent used, how many layers is applied, skin condition before the peel and also the area of the body where the peel is being done.

In general, superficial and medium depth peels are used for Indian skin to prevent complications.

How is a chemical peel done?

A chemical peel is done after an initial consultation with the patient to diagnose the skin problem and to set the patient’s expectations right. The patient is counselled as to what to expect and how many sessions of chemical peel are required to see an improvement in his/ her condition.

Steps involved in a chemical peel –

1. The skin is degreased using a cleanser and a degreasing agent

2. The peel is applied in 1- 3 layers depending on the condition

3. The peel is left till the desired end point is achieved

4. Th peel is neutralised using a neutraliser and an ice cube is rubbed over the face gently to cool the face down

At Twacha Skin and Hair Clinic, we dermatologists personally perform all the peels ourselves to ensure the best results and to minimise any type of side effects.

You can watch a video of a salicylic acid peel being done at our clinic by clicking on the YouTube link here -

The awareness of the safety and efficacy of chemical peel procedure is increasing in Kochi over the last few years.

Uses of chemical peels

Chemical peels are very effective in treatment of acne, dark circles, pigmentation like melasma and for skin rejuvenation. Chemical peels like party peels are also effective in getting a beautiful glow to your skin, especially prior to big events like a wedding or a party.

1. Acne - Chemical peels for acne are done every 2 weeks. 4-6 sessions are done. I prefer to use salicylic acid based peels as this has more affinity towards oil glands and helps in clearing the debris and bacteria from the pores. I personally find that this is the best chemical peel for acne.

2. Acne scars – Chemical peels for acne scars is recommended if the scars are of the red/ hyperpigmented variety. Pitted scars do not respond well to peels. They may require treatments like dermaroller or subcision.

3. Pigmentation - Chemical peels for pigmentation problems like melasma and freckles may require a greater number of sessions. I prefer to use glycolic acid, retinol peels and ferulac peels for treating melasma. I find that peels that cause visible flaking like retinol peels are the best chemical peels for melasma.

4. Open pores - Chemical peels for treatment of open pores also need multiple sessions as maintenance. I prefer to use glycolic acid based peels for the treatment of open pores.

5. Tan - We also use chemical peels to remove tan. Glycolic acid based peels are helpful for this. This, of course has to be combined with strict use of a sunscreen.

6. Skin lightening - A lot of patients also enquire about chemical peels for skin whitening. I generally combine peels with medical treatment including sunscreens, lightening agents like kojic acid and liquorice and oral glutathione supplements. However, I counsel my patients not to expect a lot from “whitening treatments”. The tan that has developed over the years can be lightened to a certain extent. It is always better to accept our complexion and aim for a healthy glow rather than try to whiten/lighten it.

There are a lot of patients who buy chemical peels on websites and try chemical peels at home. This is not advisable. Unsupervised peels without a sound knowledge can lead to side effects like persistent redness, mild burns, hyperpigmentation and even scars.

The cost of a chemical peel depends on the type of peel, areas of peeling and also the clinic you visit. At Twacha Skin and Hair Clinic, the cost of a chemical peel ranges form Rs.1200 to Rs.5000 per session.

Hope this post shed light on a few simple and practical aspects of chemical peels.

Here are some photos of chemical peel before and after.

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