Laser or Chemical Peel?
- Jamie, age 26 asks – What is a chemical peel for? Does it hurt? Does it burn your skin? Can you be seen in public within a few days? I've seen some gross stuff but I don't know if that's the norm.
- Krista, age 30 asks – Is it true that if you laser your face, you can never go in the sun again? I had a procedure done and someone told me if I ever go in the sun again, I'll get really blotchy with age spots. I wear sunscreen but now I'm paranoid.
These are important questions and since they are related, I like to answer them together:
What are chemical peels?
Chemical peels are one of the most frequently performed aesthetic procedures and their popularity continues to grow. At the same time, there is much confusion and misunderstanding surrounding chemical peels that prevents more of us from enjoying their undeniable benefits.
Broadly speaking, chemical peels can be divided into categories based on the depth of penetration in the skin:
Superficial chemical peels create an injury to the epidermis – the outermost layer of the skin. Some of the most common examples of superficial chemical peels include a variety of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA,) salicylic acid as well as low concentration trichloroacetic acid (10% - 25%.)
Medium depth chemical peels create an injury that extends through the epidermis and affecting the superficial portion of the dermis (upper reticular dermis). This category of peels includes higher concentration of TCA peels (35% - 50%,) Jessner's solution and carefully applied 88% phenol.
What can chemical peels be used for?
Superficial chemical peels are recommended for the treatment of skin conditions that primarily affect the epidermis such as acne, superficial (epidermal) melasma, mottled skin pigmentation, superficial wrinkling as well as mild photo-damage. The most commonly used superficial chemical peels are glycolic acid (GA) peels as the small molecular weight of GA allows it to penetrate into the skin and exert its influence on living and non-living (outermost layer) cells. Generally speaking, concentrations above 50% are needed to provide any substantial benefit to the treated skin.
Medium depth chemical peels are reserved for more serious skin conditions and should only be performed by qualified doctors.
What are lasers and what can they be used for?
Lasers are devices that emit a very concentrated form of visible or invisible "light". This energy interacts with the skin creating desired effects. Different lasers are used to treat different conditions. Some lasers remove red spots such as enlarged blood vessels on the face, nose and legs, whereas others treat brown spots such as sun damage and melasma. Yet another class of lasers are used to precisely remove the top layers of the skin creating excellent rejuvenation. The precision of using laser has formed the basis of its popularity. In proper hands, facial laser rejuvenation can truly be remarkable.
What happens during and after the treatments?
During the treatments with laser or chemical peel, there is some discomfort. The degree of discomfort varied on the depth of the treatment performed. The choice of the procedure depends on detailed consultation between physician and the patient. We usually recommend either no specific anaesthesia when superficial chemical peels are used or topical creams with some local anaesthesia when laser treatments are performed. Afterwards, it is important to protect the skin from excessive sun as the benefits of the treatments would be reversed. Yes, some sun is OK but excessive sun exposure is counterproductive.