What You Really Need to Know About Chemical Peels (That Nobody Tells You)

A chemical peel is a double-edged sword. It is a quick, easy and effective way to refine skin texture, minimise skin discolouration and sun damage. When used correctly, chemical peels can deliver instant and transformative results. Thus begins a beauty addiction that keeps the cash tills ringing.

But stop here. Read the sentence again. Note the keywords: when. used. correctly.

It is a simple concept: Apply on a layer of acid to “blister” and peel off a layer of unwanted skin cells. It allows our skin to activate new cell growth and rejuvenation resulting in brighter and fresher looking complexion.

What nobody tells you is whatever follows this simple skin peeling concept is a slew of caveat emptors (buyer beware).

#1. If you have sensitive and highly reactive skin, you should avoid chemical peel treatments. The truth is most people considering a chemical peel treatment most likely have sensitive and reactive skin. Isn’t that the reason for seeking treatment? Their skin has already reacted to either sun, ageing, allergy, lifestyle and/or environment triggers.

#2. Chemical peels put your skin at risk of over-sensitivity.
The deeper, more aggressive and stronger acid used in the treatment, the more exposed and sensitive your skin will be post-treatment. Do not undergo a chemical peel treatment if you know your job or lifestyle requires you to be exposed to the sun or if you have no intention of using a strong daily sunblock. It would defeat the purpose of the treatment and potentially cause adverse side effects.

#3. Chemical peels can thin your skin. The main problem with chemical peel treatments is that it is very difficult to judge how deeply the chemicals have penetrated into the layers of the skin. A bad chemical peel – one that has gone too deep – can thin the skin and lead to permanent scarring. Frequent or regular chemical peels can also thin the skin and cause pre-mature ageing. Skin that is too raw and too thin is prone to develop fine lines and wrinkling.

#4. Do you know how deep is too deep? Most facial treatment centres will offer chemical peels of varying degrees: light, medium and deep. Logic has it, as a first-timer, you will go for the light peel. Then, progressively as you see results, you will opt for medium or deep peel. This is where the trick is – to know where the tipping point is for your skin. You will never know your skin tolerance until you undergo and see results. Unfortunately sometimes, this lesson can come too late.

#5. Look at the ingredients and understand the potential for toxicity in the chemicals used. Be extra careful and cautious of chemical peels that are marketed with fancy names. Some doctors or brands come up with exotic names for existing chemical peel treatments to give the appeal that this is something special or unique. What you need to do is look at the ingredients list. If its not listed, you need to ask the doctor or skincare specialist for it. If they cannot show (or tell) you, there is a reason. Some chemicals can be easily absorbed into the blood stream and are highly toxic to the liver. An example is a chemical ingredient like resorcinol, that often used in stronger and deeper peel treatments. You need to do your research.

#6. Know your chemicals. There are a variety of chemical acids used for facial peels. The one most used widely in dermatologists clinics and facial spas is trichloroacetic acid, or TCA. TCA is especially popular because it can reduce sun damaged skin, pigmentation spots and acne scars. Unfortunately, TCA is considered by the State of California as a potential carcinogenic and a toxic substance. The truth is you don’t have to have a chemical peel to be exposed to TCA. TCA is used as an antiseptic and even drinking water – as a byproduct of chlorination.  Concern about this acid has been growing and although the evidence is not solid, there are numerous studies in lab mice linking TCA to liver cancer; and both genetic and cellular damage in human subjects. So the question is do chemical peels increase your risk of cancer? Short answer: Nobody knows. But more importantly is why would you want to risk your health when you can choose not to.

 #7. Results do not last. Most chemical peel results are not permanent because our skin is always ageing. So if you decide to undergo a chemical peel, be prepared for a lifestyle change as well. You will need to continuously protect your skin from the sun to prevent future skin spots and growths. To maintain optimal results, you will need to have repeat treatments. At this point, it is important to discuss your repeat chemical peel treatment plan with your skin specialist.

#8. He who offers you the treatment will never offer you the guarantee. Ever wondered why? Everybody’s skin type and sensitivity levels are different. What works for one person may do potential damage to another. Even the best and most experienced skin therapists or doctor cannot guarantee you desired results because they KNOW that results may vary with each individual. In Singapore, a chemical peel at a skin specialist clinic can set you back S$150-S$400 per peel. But bear in mind, this is not going to be your only expense. If you get desired results, they will have you return for followup treatments. If you get undesired results, you will be forking out more money to treat the potential damage.

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