Chemical peels have become a go-to treatment to rejuvenate, resurface and revitalize the skin. However, for women and men with darker skin tones, the decision to get a chemical peel might not be so simple. Though chemical peels are FDA-approved and generally considered a safe treatment, they do require a qualified medical aesthetician who’s experienced in treating melanin-rich dark skin.
How Do Chemical Peels Work?
Chemical peels are one of the oldest aesthetic procedures to rejuvenate the skin — and when we say one of the oldest, we truly mean it. Chemical peels date all the way back to ancient Egypt, and while they’ve undergone rigorous clinical testing since, the procedure remains largely the same.
During a chemical peel, controlled substances are topically applied to raise the acidity of the skin from its baseline of a 5.5 pH level to a more acidic 3.8 pH level. Altering the pH level of the skin helps loosen dead skin cells and promotes the regeneration of new skin cells, so superficial skin layers are safely removed through exfoliation to reveal more radiant, healthy skin.
Do Chemicals Peels Damage Dark Skin?
There are numerous misconceptions about chemical peels for melanin-rich skin, the primary being that men and women with dark skin cannot undergo a chemical peel procedure. On the contrary, an individual with a darker skin tone can safely receive a chemical peel — but not necessarily with the same chemical formulation as an individual with a light or fair skin tone.
Skin tone is gauged by the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Chart, a commonly used system to describe how an individual’s skin would respond to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure, as well as decide if they are a candidate for certain chemical peels and skincare ingredients used to resurface the skin. The Fitzpatrick Chart ranges from Type I to VI, with I as the fairest and VI having the most melanin.
Melanin-rich skin responds differently to temperature and chemical formulations than a fair skin tone (like Type I) would. Peels that penetrate the skin too deeply can produce heat that damages the melanocyte in Type V and VI skin, which can either remove the color from the skin or cause erythema that can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation like dark marks and scarring.
Dermatologist Approved Chemicals for Dark Skin
Though not all chemical peels are suitable for melanin-rich skin, there are dermatologist-approved chemicals for dark skin that successfully address acne, acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Our team of award-winning Physician Assistants and Medical Aestheticians assess each patient’s skin tone to decide on the ideal alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) chemical peel.
1. Glycolic Acid (AHA)
Glycolic acid is the most commonly used alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) peel, particularly for men and women with dark skin. Trusted for its safety and effectiveness, glycolic acid addresses skin concerns like hyperpigmentation, sun damage, acne scarring, and fine lines and wrinkles. Made from sugar cane, it’s generally a gentler chemical peel that is applied for three to five minutes.
2. Mandelic Acid (AHA)
Mandelic acid is also an AHA peel; however, it’s derived from bitter almonds and has about twice the molecule size of glycolic acid. A larger molecule size allows mandelic acid to penetrate the skin more slowly, which means it can feel less irritating to the skin than other AHA formulations. It’s ideal for acne-prone and congested skin, as well as for those with an uneven skin tone.
3. Salicylic Acid (BHA)
Salicylic acid is a popular beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that’s used as an active ingredient in many acne-fighting skincare products. Salicylic acid penetrates the skin quickly and acts as a deep cleanser to help remove debris and oil build-up from the pores. This chemical for dark skin helps men and women with oily skin types shed old skin cells and combat acne formation.
4. Lactic Acid (AHA)
Lactic acid is another AHA peel that performs similarly to glycolic acid and has been proven to be a safe and effective peeling agent for skin concerns among individuals with dark skin. Derived from soured milk, lactic acid is considered a top choice for sensitive skin types. It’s beneficial for treating skin concerns like mild hyperpigmentation, uneven or dull skin texture, and rosacea.
5. Citric Acid (AHA)
Citric acid derived from oranges and lemons is known for its brightening effects on the skin. A type of AHA peel, citric acid helps slow the formation of dark spots and sun spots. In particular, citric acid is known to improve signs of photoaging (when the sun prematurely ages the skin), various types of sun damage and acne scarring. This peel ingredient may be appealing to those who wish to revitalize mild to moderate pigmentation.
6. VI Peel
Alexandra Lovin, Senior Medical Aesthetician, recommends, “The VI peel is an excellent advanced peel, safe for all skin types.“ The VI Peel works to lift pigment and clear even cystic acne. With a combination of TCA, Salicylic Acid, Ascorbic Acid and Retinoic Acid, this peel is strong enough to combat stubborn skin conditions while safe enough to treat dark skin. We recommend a complimentary skin consultation to assess how many VI Peels you will need to address your skin concerns, and make sure you are an appropriate candidate.
7. Cosmelan Peel
“Melasma can be one of the trickiest skin conditions to treat, often requiring anywhere from 4-8 peels. The Cosmelan peel is one of the only technologies that requires only one treatment to treat most melasma cases,” notes Lovin. We do not recommend it if the client has rosacea, very sensitive skin or active acne. The Cosmelan is safe for all skin types and should be performed once a year.
What to Avoid After a Chemical Peel
Chemical peels do not require extensive downtime; however, you should avoid sun exposure as much as possible as your skin is healing. Your skin may be temporarily more sensitive to the sun during the first week after your chemical peel procedure, so stay in the shade and keep the skin well hydrated. Likewise, avoid peeling and picking the skin after your peel, as you may induce scarring.
Why is Your Chemical Peel Provider Important?
If you’ve been battling skin concerns like acne, sun damage, fine lines, or aging, you may benefit from receiving a chemical peel — but chemical peels are far from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ procedure. Not all providers have the training to treat dark skin (or skin that’s higher on the Fitzpatrick Chart) and many are unaware of which chemicals for dark skin are suitable for a chemical peel procedure.
Not only is experience with dark skin tones necessary, but so is the availability of a customized treatment plan. At Tribeca MedSpa, our team of award-winning Physician Assistants and Medical Aestheticians has extensive knowledge of how to best rejuvenate and revitalize dark skin tones.
Curious if a chemical peel is right for you? Schedule a complimentary consultation today.