Here’s my guide to peels and acids. It’s no secret that I love a good skin peel. It’s one of my favourite methods to use within my treatments, alongside many others. Dead skin cells, fine lines, sluggish skin cell turnover, dullness as well as boosting hydration levels and reducing the appearance of pigmentation, all generally prevent the skin from feeling and looking its best. Peels can be suitable for all skin types, including before special events as well as for long term skin health.
That’s why I’m a huge advocate of acids, obviously used in the correct safe way. I can sense some of you might be sweating at the thought but they’re really nothing to be afraid of. The word in itself sounds aggressive, and obviously there are medical peels, however, they come in all shapes and sizes. Some with very low levels which won’t even give a peeling effect, more of a skin rebalance and rejuvenation – which can be AMAZING on a regular basis. Then there are some that can step up safely over a period of time to give a much deeper treatment. Either way, you won’t end up looking like Samantha in Sex and the City.
The peels we perform are gentle but effective and some give no downtime. With others, it’s a case of understanding the process the skin goes through to safely heal and regenerate and support it over the next few days. The results most definitely speak for themselves.
I generally prefer them to physical scrubs as peels work like little pac men to gentle eat up the cells on the surface and loosen up the glue between the cells to enable a more uniform and controlled exfoliation, rather than scratch and irritate the surface.
When you think about acids, I am not talking about face fall off formulations, we are working with chemicals and it can take some skin science and knowledge to get the best out of them. Used with specific formulations, strengths and PH levels they can be one of the most skin-transforming ingredients, especially when combined with other products to balance out their process. The key is to not overdo it with peels and the rule is SPF daily all year round if you have acids in your homecare, and or having peels within your facials.
It’s possible to have a 40 per cent peel that has a low pH, which means its impact will be minimal, and a 20 per cent peel that has a high pH, which means it can be more aggressive. The pH scale runs from 1 (acid) to 14 (alkaline). The pH of skin is 5.5, which is slightly acidic, and is why soap, with its pH of 8–9 has a drying effect. Water has a pH of around 7; face wipes have one of around 10, and alcohol has a pH of around 3 to 4. The lower the pH, the deeper the peel will penetrate.
Some peels are perfectly safe and effective to have with no previous skin preparation. They’re often included as part of general facials as an effective method of exfoliating and boosting the skin. They’re great if you need a quick freshen up before attending a special event. I would recommend using a gentle cleanser and no exfoliant at home for at least two days after the treatment and it’s essential you wear an SPF.
Other peels may require you to have prepped the skin with certain products so that you get the best result and minimal downtime. Cut out any retinol products one week before the treatment and only resume using them at least seven days afterwards or you’re likely to experience sensitivity.
After your peel, avoid perfumed skincare and high levels of aromatherapy as these may irritate the skin. Cut out strong cleansing washes that contain AHAs, as well as antibacterial ingredients such as salicylic acid. Instead, opt for gentle, soothing cleansers for three to four days. You might need to factor in your work-life schedule for medium-strength peels – your skin might be slightly flushed immediately after, then look vibrant for a few days.
By day four to five, it might feel a little dry and itchy but by day seven to ten, it will be more vibrant than ever. If you’re having a course of peels these are usually staggered two weeks apart to maximise results.
There are soooo many different acids which each have their own unique benefit to the skin, it can be confusing to understand what’s what and what does what! Some of these you might have in your at-home cleanser or face mask and not really know if it’s good or bad for your skin. And with your homecare be cautious not to overuse acids, it’s a balancing act.
AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) are a group of naturally derived acids commonly used in skincare and you may already use one or two. They’re fantastic for the signs of ageing because they neutralise the outer-most layer of the epidermis (the corneum).
AHAs don’t penetrate deep into the skin because they’re water-soluble, making them great to work on the corneum alone.
In this group, there’s just the one acid – salicylic. Like the AHAs, this one exfoliates and works to shed dead cells. It’s perfect for treating acne-prone skin and blocked pores.
BHAs are fantastic for penetrating oily pores and really working to exfoliate them. They’re oil-soluble so can really dig deep. It’s why BHAs are perfect for oily skin.
Now let’s look at some of the most common acids in more detail…
Glycolic acid is the smallest of the AHAs but is widely used in skincare. It can feel hot and bring you up pinker than other acids. Derived from the sugar cane plant, it is incredibly effective of getting into the outer-most skin layer. It’s an all-round anti-ageing product that exfoliates, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, evens out discolouration, skin tone, and texture. But it does make your skin sensitive to the sun!
Lactic acid is gentler, but also more hydrating and better for treating all skin types including dry and sensitive skin. It comes from milk and works to keep the skin stable. It essentially melts away the skin’s surface to give it a super gentle exfoliation, leaving the skin soft and glowy.
Mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds. As with the other AHAs, it’s a powerful exfoliating acid used on breakouts and acne scarring, working on sun damage, and evening out the complexion. It doesn’t penetrate as deep as glycolic acid, so is less irritating and works well as a peel. It can, however, work on even the oiliest of skin types, making it very effective and a bit of a go-to for pigment issues.
Salicylic acid is great for acne. It’s known as a deep exfoliator and fantastic for clearing pores. It’s made from willow bark and works well on tough skin oils. It breaks down the skin cells that are bound by oil to really shift it and reveal a calmer, more even skin tone that glows. We use it in higher concentrations as a peel to treat acne, scarring and sun damage.
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