Chemical Peels

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We know that, in general, women with brown skin do not age as quickly as women of European descent. Since invasive anti-aging procedures are often not necessary, women with brown skin often rely on topical anti-aging creams, muscle relaxants and filler substances. In addition, many women with brown skin turn to other minor procedures to reduce the signs of aging and to improve the appearance of their skin from conditions such as acne and pseudofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps).

By definition, minor procedures are non-surgical and include chemical peels and microdermabrasion. Although these procedures are relatively simple and low risk, it is important to understand them before rushing into these treatments. Also consult with your dermatologist to make sure these are the proper treatments for your skin. Finally, as a woman with brown skin, make sure that your procedure is performed only by a trained health care professional who is experienced in caring for brown skin.

Chemical Peels
A chemical peel is a procedure in which a chemical solution is applied directly to your skin. For women with brown skin, peels are used for a variety of problems. They are used to fade dark marks or blemishes, even skin tone, smooth the rough texture of the skin, lessen wrinkling, improve acne and razor bumps, exfoliate plugged pores, reduce the appearance of enlarged pores and smooth depressed scars. They are typically performed on the face, but are also appropriate for any area of the body that may need help in diminishing these imperfections.

Chemical peels work by removing the damaged outer layers of the skin. They peel away the superficial layers of the skin, the stratum corneum or uppermost epidermis. They may also stimulate the production of collagen in the skin’s dermal layer. The depth of the peel procedure depends on the chemical used, the length of time the chemical is allowed to remain on the skin, and how vigorously the solution is applied.

Most superficial chemical peeling agents can be used safely on brown skin. There are several varieties, including fruit acid peels, lactic acid peels, alphahydroxy acid peels (glycolic acid), betahydroxyacid peels (salicylic acid), and 15% to 20% trichloroacetic acid peels (TCA). These peels are generally the mildest and may be applied, in various concentrations -- weekly or at longer intervals -- to obtain the best result. Usually a series of 4-6 peels is recommended for optimum results.

Deeper chemical peeling agents, such as the Obagi Blue peel, 35% trichloroacetic acid peel, and the phenol peel should be used with extreme caution in brown skin. These deeper peels, which require up to 2-weeks of healing time, strip the skin of the epidermal layer, leaving the skin completely abraded (similar to when you skin your knee). Not infrequently, the skin can then heal with abnormal pigmentation -- several shades darker than your normal skin complexion.

When you obtain a consultation with your dermatologist, he or she will review possible side effects and decide which solution will provide the best results for your skin. It is very important that your procedure is performed by a health care professional. In some states, no medical degree is required to perform a chemical peel. However, since this procedure can be potentially damaging to brown skin, it is very important that it is only performed by someone who has adequate training and experience with the peeling agent and with brown skin.

Most chemical peels are safely performed in your dermatologist’s office. Since it is a relatively painless procedure, lasting 10-15 minutes, anesthesia is not required. Typically, your face is gently cleansed and dried. The solution is applied—using a sponge, cotton pad, cotton swab or brush—to the areas to be treated (or the entire face, avoiding the eyes, brows and lips). An itching, stinging, hot or burning sensation may occur during the peel. This may be lessened with the cool breeze from a fan or with the application of cold compresses. At the end of the 10-minute peel process, your skin may be sprayed with a neutralizing solution or water and then cleansed again. An “after-peel” cream or ointment will be suggested by your doctor. After the peel, the use of a sunscreen is very important since your skin will be susceptible to sunburns. Also, make-up may be worn after the procedure, but be sure to consult your doctor about how soon it can be used, and which brands will be best for your skin.

Your dermatologist may have recommended the use of certain over-the-counter or prescription products in conjunction with your peels. These will need to be re-started a few days after your peel is completed. Topical fruit acid or alphahydroxyacid-containing cleansers, cream and lotions used daily can assist in achieving smoother, brighter skin with fading of dark marks or blemishes. Likewise, retinoid and antioxidant containing creams, as well as your regularly prescribed acne or razor bump medication can help you achieve your desired look faster.

Although side effects are unusual with most superficial peels, some women do report minor redness, irritation, crusting, scabbing, flaking, dark patches or temporary dryness. Some deeper peels may also cause significant swelling and present a risk of scarring, infection or abnormal pigmentation. Increased sensitivity to the sun with burning may occur following a chemical peel. Following your doctor's pre-peel and post-peel instructions will minimize the risk of these adverse effects.

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