Chemical Peels For Dark Skin? Which Is Best?
Can people with dark skin even get chemical peels?
A friend, family member, or even your dermatologist may recommend a chemical peel to clear up a troublesome skin condition. Chemical peels are cosmetic treatments that are applied to the face and neck to remove damaged skin cells. Your board-certified dermatologist will combine different acids to create a solution suitable for your skin concern. The solution is then applied in a simple procedure. The result is smooth, blemish-free skin, based on the type of peels used.
Chemical peels slough off dead surface skin, so there needs to be care when using the treatment. There’s a common misconception that people with dark skin cannot get chemical peels. It’s understandable since there are some cases of damaged skin and a condition called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots). However, these are the exception and not the norm. In a study, only 4% of African American patients received some unwanted side effects.
It all boils down to the type of peel and your doctor’s experience in dealing with dark skin. At Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics, we perform hundreds of chemical peels every year, particularly on dark skin. So in this article, we’ll cover the type of chemical peels available and how they can impact Skin Of Color. We’ll also give you some tips to make the process as smooth as possible.
Key uses of peels
Why would you use a chemical peel anyway? There are hundreds, if not thousands of skincare products on the market to deal with almost every skincare concern. So is a peel really necessary? Most skincare products send ingredients to the surface level of your skin. These can work over a long period, but the results may not be as expected. That said, chemical peels treat several conditions, which include:
- Acne and Acne Scars: Some skin care products can clear our acne but is powerless to stop some of the scars left behind. A chemical peel can help break up and remove acne scarring.
- Wrinkles and fine lines: Over time, our skin stops producing collagen, which helps with elasticity. That lack of elasticity creates wrinkles and fine lines on the top layer of our skin when we frown. Chemical peels can reduce the appearance of wrinkles, by stimulating new collagen formation.
- Uneven skin tones, also called Hyperpigmentation: Our skin is exposed to external and internal stressors like pollution, sun damage, hormones, or a skin injury. These changes can impact different parts of our face, giving the appearance of an uneven skin tone. A chemical peel can produce smooth, even skin.
- Melasma: Melasma is a skin condition that causes dark patches on the cheeks, forehead, or chin. People with dark skin tones are more likely to have melasma. It is also sometimes a result of pregnancy, stress, or thyroid conditions. Chemical peels can even skin tones while you work on the underlying cause of melasma.
A chemical peel gives your skin a reset by removing the outermost layer of your skin. Think of a snake shedding its skin, revealing a new, beautiful layer.
Why there’s a major concern with dark skin
People of color, dark skin or the many beautiful shades of brown make up roughly 1/3 of our population. While skin looks different on the outside, the genetic makeup of skin is about the same on the inside.
We all have the same melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin.
However, people of color produce far more melanin at the surface level. Melanin is the compound that determines hair color and skin color. But it also protects the skin from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.
One significant advantage is that darker skin tones are far more protected from ultraviolet light than lighter skin tones (which could be the reason why many POCs believe that sunscreen is not necessary. Hint, it is.)
On the flip side, dark skin is more likely to react negatively to skin damage with conditions like melasma, hyperpigmentation, textural changes, and much more. In addition, since chemical peels essentially damage and remove layers of skin, there is a belief that you could get an unwanted reaction.
There is also a concern that people of color are not properly represented in the dermatology space. So many would choose to avoid certain procedures due to a lack of experience, taking the ‘better safe than sorry approach.’ There have been significant strides to address this issue. Today, more and more doctors and aestheticians understand how to help darker skin tones. Furthermore, there is a growing contingent of dermatologists of color. Now, your dermatologist would be able to choose the right peel for your skin concern.
Types of chemical peels
Before you get a chemical peel, it’s essential to understand both the types of peels and what’s in your peels. This knowledge will help you to understand what’s happening during your peel and if what your provider is suggesting is right for you. Chemical peels are classified as superficial peels, medium-depth peels, and deep peels.
- Superficial peels target the uppermost layer of your skin called the stratum corneum or epidermis. These peels can go all the way to the top of an area called the papillary dermis.
- Medium-depth peels impact the middle layer of your skin, called the dermis. This layer starts at the papillary dermis and goes to the middle of the reticular dermis. Medium-depth peels are much more potent at removing dead skin cells and breaking up scars.
- Deep peels get deep into the middle layer of your skin and can break up deep acne scars and hyperpigmentation. Anyone opting for deep peels do so under the advice of a board-certified dermatologist. These peels have long healing times and must be done with caution.
Your peel will be an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHAs) or a beta-hydroxy acid (BHAs). AHAs are acids derived from plants and animals. At different concentrations, these can exfoliate your skin, brighten your skin, increase blood flow and collagen production. BHAs are oil-based organic compounds that can unclog pores, reduce oil, clear acne, and much more.
Superficial Chemical Peels
Your superficial peels will contain AHAs or a combination of AHAs and BHAs. Glycolic acid and salicylic acids are the most common types of superficial peels. These ingredients are in many skin care products. However, your dermatologist will use a higher concentration in the chemical peel. Other types of superficial peels include tretinoin or Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) between 10% to 30% strength. Some dermatologists may perform a low concentration Jessner’s peel, which is a combination of lactic acid, resorcinol, and salicylic acid.
Medium peels contain stronger versions of AHAs or BHAs to reach dead skin cells and uneven skin tones. These peels start with stronger TCA, between 35% to 40%. Glycolic acid and Jessner’s solution also work for medium peels at stronger concentrations. Phenol peels, a combination of powerful acids, can also help. This special peel is used at lower concentrations since it’s often reserved for deep peels.
Deep Chemical Peels
These peels help in special cases of severely damaged skin, deep wrinkles, or blotchy skin. Phenol is a popular choice for deep peels. Some deep peels may also comtaIn 50% or higher TCA. These peels require preparation in the weeks before to ensure faster healing and better success.
Here are the best chemical peel for dark skin.
So which one of these peels is best for dark skin? As we mentioned, people of all shades can get chemical peels. Darker skin, pigmented skin, or People of Color need the right peels to effectively tackle their skin concerns while being safe to use.
Superficial peels are the best options for dark skin. Your doctor may first try low levels of glycolic acid and salicylic acid. Studies show glycolic acid and salicylic acid are safe and effective. These, along with retinol and Jessner peels, have the lowest skin complications with the best results. Research shows that TCA peels at 25% and above caused the most damage to dark skin. If your doctor is using TCA peels, it will be likely at a lower concentration to test your sensitivity.
Sensitivities still exist
Even with surface peels, the sensitivity levels vary from person to person. Skin complications are possible with glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or Jessner. Using the lowest concentration first can help the dermatologist gauge your sensitivity to the acid. Over several weeks, your dermatologist will perform three or more peels, slowly increasing the concentration of acids each time. You should see the best results with the lowest chances of side effects using this method.
Medium depth peels must be used with caution.
Medium peels can be used in specific circumstances. Lighter brown skin types, for instance, can see significant improvement in conditions like scarring, melasma, and hyperpigmentation. Like superficial peels, doctors will first try the peel at a lower concentration then increase the potency in future sessions. Darker skin is at significant risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and scarring. Hyperpigmentation and other issues tend to improve after three months with your dermatologist’s help.
Avoid these peels at all costs.
Deep peels or phenol peels should not be used on skin of color. There i a high risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation. If there is deep scarring or skin damage, there are other solutions your dermatologist can use which are both safe and effective. For peels of all types, discuss any concerns you may have. Your doctor will outline the risks and steps needed to address them.
Protecting yourself before and after your peel.
If you have acne, scars, hyperpigmentation, or other skin concerns, you can benefit from a chemical peel. People with dark skin, however, should focus on superficial peels. To minimize the risk and improve the effectiveness of your peel, your doctor will provide some instructions to prepare your skin before your session.
Your dermatologist will prescribe a combination of a skin-lightening agent, including hydroquinone, kojic acid, arbutin and glycolic acid (between 5% and 10%). Sunscreen is vital during this time to protect against further skin damage.
After your chemical peel, you’ll need to do some work too:
- After the peel, you’ll feel some redness, burning, dryness, and minor swelling. These are normal symptoms and should resolve within a few days.
- Make sure to apply a dermatologist-recommended sunscreen and moisturizer twice daily. Use a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser to clean your face.
- As your skin begins to peel, it’s sensitive to sunlight and damage, so protect it at all costs.
- Avoid picking or pulling the peeled skin since you can transfer bacteria onto your face. Let it slough off naturally.
- Avoid exfoliants and makeup while your skin heals for the best results.
- You may break out, which is normal. The acne should resolve during the healing process.
Make sure to take enough time between each session for the skin to heal completely.
Chemical peels for dark skin- Choose the right peel for you.
Remember, chemical peels for dark skin are possible. They are safe and effective but only when administered correctly. Superficial peels are best for dark skin. Your dermatologist will gradually increase the concentration of acids to gauge your skin’s sensitivity. If your doctor believes that you need a medium peel, there will be a gradual increase in potency. For the best results with minimum side effects, follow the instructions before and after your chemical peel.
Anyone with dark skin interested in chemical peels should seek out a dermatologist with expertise in treating skin of color. At Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics, our lead dermatologist, Ife Rodney MD, FAAD, is skilled in providing chemical peels on all skin types. As a dermatologist of color, Dr. Rodney understands what you need to get the best results. Feel free to reach out to us to schedule your chemical peel consultation today.