If you have sensitive skin, you can be forgiven for approaching chemical peels with trepidation.
The name alone sounds terrifying enough, never mind the sheer concept of applying a chemical to your face.
But even sensitive skin can suffer from dullness, which means the occasional light chemical peel solution may not be a bad idea.
The trick to embracing chemicals peels is to forget the word chemical ever existed in your vocabulary; here at NC, we prefer to use much friendlier terminology like slouch, refresh and renew.
The beautifying benefits of peeling should not be discounted; they can help increase cell turnover, address acne, wrinkles, and flakiness, which means the occasional light chemical peel may not go amiss.
So if your a borderline-terrified sceptic with sensitive, acne-prone skin, we’re here to help you get over your fears; we’ve compiled a few peels for beginners to help dispel the myths and set you on your glowifiacation journey.
Use superficial peels for your sensitive skin
Superficial peels are well tolerated and are the best option for sensitive skin folks; they penetrate minimally, exfoliate gently, and help minor discolouration and rough texture.
These skin-friendly peels come in the form of gentle enzymes like papaya and pineapple that ever so gently resurface without irritation because even sensitive skin can become lacklustre.
It’s easy to reach for an exfoliating scrub when your skin is flat and dull. Still, they can potentially cause tiny micro-tears in your skin, upsetting your all-important barrier function; when you need to be focusing on skin repair and renewal because superficial peels are gentle, you may not see the result you were expecting with your first peel — but after repeated peels — providing your skin can tolerate it, significant improvement is visible to the naked eye.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of any light chemical peel will depend on the type and concentration, as well as any additional ingredients in your product.
Alpha hydroxy acids
These are the type of chemical peel agents you need to consider for your sensitive skin type; they are gentle acids that are typically derived from fruits and flowers and often naturally occurring.
On the other hand, beta hydroxy acids are for an oily, combination skin type and should be avoided, that is, unless you are suffering from inflamed acne breakouts — which you can learn more about here.
Low concentrations of AHA’s are the best option for sensitive skin types, helping to exfoliate the upper layers of your epidermis to improve hydration, skin texture, fine lines and uneven skin tone. Unlike harsh physical exfoliants, AHA’s work dissolves the “glue” that attaches the skin cells to the surface, allowing them to flake off. Keen to learn more about how to exfoliate sensitive skin? Then this article is a great resource.
Types of AHA’s
These are the lightest chemical peel solution available and are considered a “natural” option because they are a derivative of fruit. Enzymes are especially great for people with reactive skin, who can’t tolerate acids, but require mild exfoliation. They work to remove dead skin and refine pores in a way that doesn’t make your skin more sensitive.
If we were to perform a peel on a client’s skin that was naturally sensitive, these peeling enzymes are what we would use.
Tartaric, malic and citric acid
These light chemical peel solutions are larger in molecular structure, so they don’t penetrate too deeply, making them much gentler than their popular cousin glycolic.
These are often used in formulas with several different acids because using multiple acids at a lower concentration (instead of one at a high concentration) can make a formula less irritating.
This is a top-rated chemical peel solution with several different strengths from 30 to 70%.
Glycolic Acid has a low pH and small molecular structure, which means it penetrates deeply; the strength of the acid determines how deep it will penetrate your skin.
This little ingredient is great for brightening your skin. Interestingly lactic acid also has a natural moisturising effect, making it a great treatment if you have dehydrated skin.
This is a Vitamin C derivative, and whilst not exactly a peel, and it is worth a mention because it is acid-based and naturally encourages cellular renewal, amongst other things.
It is an active ingredient that can help with the formation of blood vessels by strengthening the capillary wall; it also helps boost collagen production, so it is a great choice if you have mature skin; our C+ ascorbic acid complex is a great place to start.
Beta hydroxy acid
Found in the form of salicylic acid, this type of light chemical peel is worth a mention if you have inflamed acne breakouts.
It is one of the most interesting hydroxy acids — it is oil-soluble — which means it can penetrate deep into minuscule pores, making salicylic acid a great treatment if you are suffering from oily skin conditions and acne.
Resq anti-blemish complex contains salicylic acid and helps flush out the pore lining, helping to minimise breakouts and target acne.
Caring for your skin after a peel
Superficial peels result in very mild facial redness, which usually resolves within 24 hours. Most people can continue their normal activities, and make-up can be applied a few hours after the procedure.
- keep your skin treated with cool water
- do not pick! Picking your skin delays healing and may cause scarring and post-inflammatory pigmentation
- moisturise – use light preparations after a superficial peel, nothing to occlusive your skin needs to breathe
- keep your skin well hydrated with humectants for up to 48 hours, and we recommend a pure, hyaluronic product like H20 hydrating complex
- protect your skin from the sun – we recommend undertaking peels during the winter months, especially if your skin is sensitive, and always wear sunscreen
As you can see, the key to embracing peels if you have susceptible skin is to forget the word peel ever existed in your vocabulary.
We appreciate that the sheer concept of chemical peels — and the fact that you would willingly apply it to your sensitive skin, can make you want to run for the hills, but the benefits of peeling should not be discounted.
Unlike physical exfoliants and scrubs, hydroxy acid-based exfoliants won’t hurt your skin and cause damaging tiny micro-tears; instead, a gentle chemical peel, especially enzymatic ones with natural fruit acids like pumpkin and papaya, and lovely lactic acid work to gently dissolve the “glue” that attaches your skin cells to the surface, allowing them to flake off, keeping your skin hydrated, improving cellular turnover.
If you’d like to find out more about the gentle fruit enzymes, we recommend reading this article in Vogue, which does a great job of discussing the different skin brightening enzymes available.