Saturday, June 6, 2015

What are glycolic peels?—with an update

A glycolic acid peel is what I consider a strong peel. Strong peels, using glycolic or other alpha hydroxy acids, will decompose surface cells. Strong peels create deep exfoliation. Deep exfoliation diminishes the appearance of lines, therefore, it stands to reason deeper peels should make you look younger. Because of this promise, many people will seek out the strongest peels available. Stronger peels can deliver a quick fix, but this fast-track mentality never brings just the desired results. There is always a consequence.

Glycolic acid causes the capillaries to dilate, which brings more blood to the area. Blood carries oxygen and other nutrients to feed and nourish the skin cells. So far, so good. But glycolic acid can also weaken the capillaries. The hot sensation you feel with the application of glycolic acid is the intense dilation of your capillaries coupled with the acid that is decomposing dead cells. It is this excessive dilating that creates a consequence that far outweighs any oxygenating and exfoliating benefits you may receive.

Because capillaries are naturally weak, strong dilating can cause capillary damage or couperose. Couperose is a condition that rarely improves but easily worsens with age, abuse in the sun, alcohol, smoking, and in my opinion, strong acid peels. So unfortunately, and you may not hear about this part, these strong peels, although exfoliating many dead cells, tend to be detrimental to the susceptible capillaries, possibly causing permanent redness.

My professional experience with glycolic peels is this. When I lived in Los Angeles (1990-1992), I worked for Dr. Murad’s wife at her salon, A Sense of Self in Brentwood. As you may know, Howard Murad developed the glycolic product: Murad. The reason I was working at this salon was because it also sold Yonka products, and at that point in my career, I had worked with Yonka for more than 5 years and wouldn’t have worked for a salon that didn't include my favorite product line.

I had access to different strengths of glycolic peels and was expected to perform them on the clients. Having experimented with the peels on my own skin, I found them to be less effective than the industry makes them out to be. I also noticed that the small amount of couperose I had on my cheeks became more prominent. The peels did smooth the surface of my skin, but at what cost? One more thing—the glycolic acid really burned!

So I was being instructed to do glycolic peels, which when requested, I did; but the results I noticed were quite disturbing. In addition to the positive exfoliating benefits that were occurring, most of my clients who received these peels had a noticeable increase in the redness or couperose in their skin. This was not good news. Subsequently, I found myself explaining these results to the clients, who all opted not to have glycolic treatments anymore. In place of the peels, I suggested receiving the Yonka facial (that has two exfoliation processes, but neither one is so strong as to cause capillary issues) and consistent exfoliation with at-home products that were sold in the salon (Yonka’s gommage).

The conclusion to this story is that after many months of working for the Murads, I was “let go” from my position at the salon. I wasn’t their model aesthetician, although I did create a lot of Yonka revenue. I wasn’t adhering to their desire for me to give glycolic peels to clients coming in. I simply couldn’t. The salon and I were no longer a good fit. And of course I realize, for my employers, I was not the kind of employee they were looking for. I moved on to another salon that carried Yonka and was no worse for the wear. I learned a lot, although in my heart I already knew strong peels were not going to be in my future, personally or professionally.

Glycolic peels usually come in a series of six treatments. What is magical about six? My guess would be money and not so much a technical result. Many times the series is given in one-week increments. My belief is that if you had a good facial once a week for six weeks, your skin would look just as fabulous, if not more so, and without any detrimental results like when using harsh acid peels.

I relate our outer dead skin to fingernails; both are made up of dead tissue. When you cut your nails, you don’t go further than the white part, otherwise you will cause an injury. And even if you did go a little gung-ho, in time the nail will grow back. The same hold true for your skin. You can eliminate many layers—even too many—at any given time and eventually the dead skin will return. Strong acid peels are like taking off too much of your fingernail. Don’t worry, the skin will continue to come up to the surface and shed off; there is no permanent exfoliation benefit from getting peels. But what about the capillaries? The only permanent result from glycolic peels is the potential for capillary issues you may not have had prior to getting peels.

I am not a proponent of glycolic peels. I realize they are popular, but once again I find myself going against the grain. If you take care of your skin consistently and take advantage of professional facials, you can achieve in the long-term the benefits of short-term acid peels without incurring any of the potential damage.
Quick fixesin skin carerarely ever work.

UPDATE: 1/2016
Although I generally don’t post reader comments on my blog pages, I still receive them to moderate. Recently someone named Jackie left the following comment regarding this glycolic peel article:

Unfortunately most businesses are about the bottom line, which in this case means selling peels despite all costs. I’ve done them at home myself and didn’t find them to be so bad. Besides, I read that the redness is just temporary anyway.

Glycolic peels are given in facial (and dermatologist’s) salons. The percentage of glycolic acid is going to vary in salon settings, but for at-home use, you will not be able to find high-percentage glycolic (or any) acid for “peels” or even in standard skin care products. Only professionals will be able to acquire percentages of these acids in the concentration I am discussing in this article.

Regarding redness: Any redness produced for whatever reason is usually undesirable. But as Jackie says, the redness does go away. This might be true for her skin with whatever glycolic treatment she is using at home, although she said she read about this temporary effect but did she experience this herself? The redness produced by strong glycolic peels in a treatment setting is the type of redness that will probably not go awaynot completely anyway.

For more information, see: