Peels are chemical exfoliants which, depending on the source and formulation, can dissolve dead skin cells, dead skin cells as well as the adhesive bonds connecting them, or can even penetrate beneath the epidermis to the dermis and affect living tissues (as in medical peels).
Chemical exfoliation has been used for beautification and skin preservation for thousands of years. Milk baths (naturally containing lactic acid) are believed to have been one of Cleopatra’s beauty rituals, keeping her skin younger looking with the mild peel effect. Similarly, strawberry and milk baths were a common beauty ritual amongst wealthy European women of the 18th century, with the strawberry enzyme enhancing the exfoliating properties. It is also believed that Cleopatra and the women of Rome were using apple based exfoliants on their faces. Apples contain malic acid which is still used as an exfoliant today.
Modern day chemical peels are a form of exfoliation which helps to increase the rate at which cells renew. (See Glowing Skin for more.) Peels improve moisture retention, increase collagen production, help control acne and may decrease hyperpigmentation. Deep peels can also significantly reverse the appearance of fine lines and scars. Deep peels (including TCA, phenol, high percentage glycolic acid) need to be adminstered by a physician. These peels are intense and require a recovery period during which skin needs to be well protected.
Light peels can be performed by estheticians. I currently offer some enzyme peels, including an extremely mild pineapple papaya enzyme peel and a more intense pumpkin enzyme peel. I also offer varying strength salicylic and glycolic peels, with intentions to soon offer more. There is no down time with these, but it is recommended that you keep your face free of cosmetics for 24 hours and wear sunscreen for 72 hours following treatment.
With the many benefits of peels, they are rising in popularity and not just at the spa. There are more and more at home peel products being released. Tarte Knockout Tingle Toner tingles because of the 10% acid content. Youth To The People also offers a high percentage peel/toner in their Kombucha and AHA Power Toner with 11% acid content. These are strong products for at home use so read and follow the instructions. For reference, my professional peels are 15%, 30% and 40%. There are also enzyme peel products such as Juice Beauty’s Green Apple Peel.
You can even try to make your own exfoliating enzyme mask by mashing the flesh of one boiled and cooled apple with a touch of honey, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Apply to face for 10 minutes and remove. Rinse clean with water. Tone, moisturize and apply sun protection. The malic acid content will act as a nice exfoliant.
While it is always important to wear sunscreen. It is truly extra important when newer, younger cells are being revealed. The skin is more vulnerable and the rays will more easily penetrate deeper, so wear sunscreen!