Everyone has heard the adage, “beauty is only skin deep.” This is truer than ever, but maybe not in the way we think. Maybe, beauty being skin deep means that achieving beautiful skin has been closer than we thought all along! Consider the resurgence of chemical peels in the cosmetic industry. Unprecedented amounts of people have been undergoing these procedures in numbers that haven’t been seen since the peak of their popularity in the 1990s. The history of chemical peels is fascinating and, due to new advances in the science behind the procedure, they are safer and more effective than ever.

History of Chemical Peels

Chemical peels have a history dating back to the ancient Egyptians. They would use natural products like animal fats and sour milk, sulfates and limestone to create their concoctions. Certain Roman, Greek, Turkish, Indian, and Hungarian traditions all have different mixtures of natural exfoliants and chemicals dotted throughout their histories which they would use to achieve the pinnacle of beauty in their specific cultures. Luckily for us, these ancient traditions laid the groundwork for the modern chemical peel.

Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra, a founder of the Vienna School of Dermatology, was a celebrated dermatologist in the mid- to late- 1800s. Author of the Atlas of Skin Diseases, he is credited with the first marketable restorative chemical peel. Consisting largely of phenol and nitric acid, he used his mixture on patients to reduce the appearance of freckles and other skin issues and discolorations. The treatment as we know it today really came about due to the work of Dr. George Miller McKee who used his phenol-based chemical peel to treat fine lines, wrinkles, keratoses, and discoloration in the 1950s. It was especially useful in improving the appearance of scars on the skin.

chemical peels

Changes in Recent Years

Fortunately for patients looking into chemical peels, sour milk is no longer a main ingredient. Dermatologists have found ways to reduce the harshness which people used to associate with chemical peels. Multiple acids in low doses are used to lessen the “peeling” part of the chemical peel. Instead, doctors hope that in agitating the skin slightly with chemicals that will infuse the skin with the chemicals it needs to repair itself while also sloughing off the initial layer of dead skin cells on the face.

Acne scars, facial discoloration, wrinkles, and under-eye backs are all treatable with modern chemical peels. As if that weren’t enough of a reason to try it, chemical peels also make your skin products from home work better. Because there is little to no dead skin guarding the layers below after a chemical peel, products like face lotions and anti-aging creams absorb more readily into the skin. Chemical peels are now safer, less painful, and more useful than ever before!

When to Talk to You Doc

Generally speaking, patients with lighter skin benefit more from chemical peels, but if you have darker skin, talk to a dermatologist to find out what options they have for you. The science behind these treatments are improving every day, so you may be a great candidate for a peel. This also depends on the type of results patients want to see. While discoloration may be harder to treat using a chemical peel on darker skin, the treatment should work on fine lines and wrinkles no matter the skin tone. If you suffer from sagging skin or more severe wrinkles, you may not be a good candidate for a chemical peel. Your dermatologist will talk to you about your particular skin issues before deciding what type of chemical peel works best for you.

What to expect

Side effects similar to slight sunburn are common in the days following a chemical peel. Redness, irritation, mild pain, and peeling are all normal. However, if you notice any side effects you deem abnormal, make an appointment to see your doctor as adverse effects are rare but possible. If undergoing a deep chemical peel, inform your doctor of any family history of heart disease as there may be additional risks involved. Fortunately, most of your expectations after a chemical peel should be smoother, better toned, more radiant skin!