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The Return of Chemical Peels

We’ve heard that phrase “history tends to repeat itself,” It’s always fascinating to learn that many of the “latest innovations” are actually techniques discovered and used in the past, lending further support to that other common saying “there is nothing new under the sun.” And so it goes with trends that what goes around usually comes around. With the resurgent popularity of dark lips, visible roots and even modified french tips all over our Instagram feeds, beauty cult classics from the ’90s are making a comeback in a big way.

Perhaps the treatment most synonymous with that decade is the chemical peel. Even though they’ve been around since Cleopatra’s milk baths, chemical peels had their day in the 90s when many physicians readily tapped into their power for addressing a multitude of skin concerns.

Decades ago, deep chemical peels were crudely applied and came with a severe price of painful recovery characterized by red and raw skin. However, as time progressed and our understanding of chemicals grew, chemical peel formulas improved. Unlike peels popular in the early 90s, modern peel techniques have been modified to produce less post-treatment irritation. Thanks to the reduced reactions and downtime, a growing numbers of facial plastic surgeons are turning to these old—but proven—resurfacing techniques to address a wide range of skin concerns and conditions. According to statistics recently released by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), more than half of facial plastic surgeons polled (52%) say that chemical peels are in high demand. Chemical peels are effective treatments to improve acne, age spots, discoloration, tone, fine lines (especially under the eyes and around the mouth), freckles, melasma, sun damage, and more.

At the basic level, chemical peels are simply another technique to resurface the skin. In other words, the top layers of the skin are removed via a chemical burn reaction. The desired goal or result is not due to the chemical peel itself, but rather the remodeling and regrowth of collagen in the natural healing phase that achieves what the patient is seeking. One can also achieve similar results with lasers or dermabrasion. Lasers resurface via a thermal injury mechanism, whereas dermabrasion takes off the top layers mechanically.

One of the things that contributes to chemical peels’ popularity – there’s a peel for everyone. Depending on which chemical is used as the peeling agent (and there are numerous types, combinations and strengths)—different skin disorders can be treated. Superficial or light peels achieve changes that are relatively light and freshen the skin through simple exfoliation. Medium depth peels will help treat various kinds of pigmentation issues. Finally, the deeper peels are effective at correcting wrinkles. Depending on the kind of chemical used, some may are equally safe in dark and light skin patients. Another reason for chemical peels’ popularity—they are generally less expensive than lasers or other light based energy devices. Still, patients must keep in mind that often several sessions with chemical peels are necessary to achieve the desired results.

Though application of chemical peels is simple, it still needs to be done by board certified physicians trained in using these dangerous substances. Chemical peels actually require more finesse and visual judgment compared to lasers. Lasers are more precise due to the advantage of having a computer aid the surgeon in setting the parameters. But chemical peels performed by experienced doctors can achieve comparable results. Furthermore, careless treatment can cause serious complications. Eye injury and blindness may result if the doctor is not careful and lets acid get into the eye.

Smooth, even toned skin conveys youth and health. The return of chemical peels offers today’s cosmetic patients another effective and cost effective option to achieve better facial skin. It’s always a good idea to consult a board certified doctor to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various resurfacing options. Only then can you make the best informed decision for you.

For more information about chemical peels, please contact Dr. Kenneth Yu Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in San Antonio.