If you have acne prone skin, you may have tried no end of acne medications and topical treatments for acne. Like with so many things, how you treat your acne can sometimes sadly be a case of trial and error to work out what works best for you, which is often dependent on the cause of your acne.
In your quest for less stressed out skin, you may have considered a chemical peel. Not as daunting as it sounds, a chemical peel generally involves using products on the face that remove the top layer of skin.
But can a chemical face peel help with acne? Let’s look at the science and find out…
What effect does a chemical peel have on acne?
The products used in a chemical peel are generally a type of acid. Not a strong acid that can cause horrific scarring, but more gentle acids such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid. Both glycolic and salicylic acids are types of fruit acids called alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs.
AHA chemical peels work by removing the top layer of skin like a mechanical exfoliant would, such as a facial scrub, but with better, more long lasting effects. This then reveals the fresh new skin below and unclogs the blocked pores that can lead to new acne spots.
You can buy products that contain glycolic and salicylic acids for use at home, or you can have chemical peels carried out by a skin professional using slightly stronger formulations.
How effective are salicylic acid peels for acne prone skin?
Salicylic peels on the whole tend to be slightly stronger than glycolic acid peels. Glycolic acid peels tend to suit sensitive skin types better and helps to exfoliate the surface layers of skin away. Salicylic acid suits oily acne prone skin types better and also helps to remove dirt, debris and excess sebum from the pores.
If your skin isn’t very sensitive, you’re better off choosing salicylic acid peels over glycolic acid peels.
Another type of chemical skin peel is a lactic acid skin peel, which suits all skin types and can be particularly effective at treating dark patches of pigmentation.
Can I go for chemical peel with acne on my face?
Sounds like an amazing treatment, but what if you’re having an actual acne breakout? “Should I do a chemical peel while I still have some acne?” We hear you cry!
Well, the answer is yes! If you have active acne, it's perfectly safe to have a chemical peel. It’s best done by a professional, who will know exactly how and where to apply the face peel products.
Chemical peels effectively exfoliate away the top layer of dead, dull skin and help to treat acne scarring (see below), but they also help to kill the skin bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, that is a major cause of acne.
Do chemical peels cause long-term skin damage?
Done correctly, a chemical peel shouldn’t cause any long term skin damage. You will notice some peeling, which will disappear after a week or so. But sometimes, you may experience a darkening or lightening of the skin, which can be permanent. You may also experience some scarring, but this is very rare.
But you must take precautions to protect your skin from direct sunlight afterwards. The fresh new skin that’s revealed after a chemical peel is more sensitive to the sun, and it can easily burn. Repeated sunburn can lead to skin cancers developing in later life.
How effective is a salicylic acid peel for acne scars?
Since chemical peels are effective at removing the top layer of skin, they can also be effective at minimising the appearance of light acne scarring. But can acne scars be treated by chemical peeling?
Yes! Because there’s another benefit to fruit acid peels - salicylic acid chemical peels also stimulate collagen production, which helps to plump up the skin from the inside, effectively helping to ‘fill in’ acne scarring.
Do salicylic acid peels help severe or pitted acne scars?
If you have severe or pitted acne scarring, then it’s unlikely that an at home chemical face peel will help to reduce their appearance, because the effect is only superficial.
A medium or deep chemical peel, which can only be carried out by a professional, may be more effective at treating deep or pitted acne scarring.
Does laser peel resurfacing work for acne scarring?
If you find that chemical peels don’t work for your acne scarring, the good news is, there are other options. You could try laser resurfacing treatment, which again, is carried out only by professionals.
Laser resurfacing uses IPL, or intense pulsed light therapy to stimulate the production of substances called porphyrins. Porphyrins are toxic to the bacteria that can cause acne breakouts, therefore killing them, preventing them from causing acne spots.
This kind of treatment can also help to reduce the size of the skin's pores, minimise inflammation and help to clear up the scarring left behind by moderate to severe acne.
Does benzoyl peroxide remove acne scars?
Benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient found in Oxy 5 (at 5% strength) and Oxy 10 (at 10% strength). These are over the counter acne remedies often used in the first line of treatment for acne spots.
Whilst benzoyl peroxide is effective for many at treating acne spots, it’s unlikely to help to treat the scarring caused by acne.
What are the causes of acne outbreaks after a chemical peel?
Sometimes, after a chemical peel, the skin can go through what’s known in the beauty industry as a “skin purge”. This term refers to a time after a particular product is used, during which the skin’s turnover rate increases.
This means that the cells are renewing at a quicker rate, which after a chemical peel, is exactly what we’d expect.
But along with this rapid cell renewal, old cells, cellular debris, dirt and oils are also brought to the surface of the skin.
This makes the skin appear temporarily worse, as all this pore clogging material will cause blackheads, whiteheads and pustules - the exact opposite of what you originally wanted. This is skin purging.
How to get rid of breakout after a chemical peel?
The best way to deal with the effects of acne breakouts as a result of skin purging after a chemical peel is to relax. Within a few weeks, the effects of your chemical peel will be revealed and your skin will be looking healthier and clearer.
In the meantime, the best way to look after your acne prone skin is to use a skincare regime developed for problem skin, such as our range of alkalising skin care.
If you’re using at home glycolic or salicylic chemical skin peel, don't give up. Continue to use it, through the worse skin purging period and eventually, it’ll pay dividends. Best of luck!