Lightening Dark Spots with Chemical Facial Peels

Lightening Dark Spots with Chemical Facial Peels

Skin hyperpigmentation refers to several conditions in which areas of the skin become darker than the surrounding areas. Although topical lighteners form the foundation of skin hyperpigmentation treatment, chemical facial peels can bring improved cosmetic outcomes as a complementary and maintenance therapy.

What Are Chemical Facial Peels And How Do They Lighten Dark Spots?

A chemical peel is a technique that utilizes a chemical solution to ‘peel off’ the topmost layer of skin, removing discolorations and promoting new skin growth. Peels can be used to improve the appearance of acne scars, melasma, sun-damaged skin, wrinkles, and several other conditions. They can also be used to lighten dark spots.

Chemical peels for lightening dark spots use chemical agents that enable the removal of the skin pigment melanin. The type of peel, its concentration, the number of coats, and the duration of application are the main factors that influence the effectiveness of treatment. These same factors affect the likelihood of developing adverse effects, such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Individuals who have dark skin are at a higher risk of developing PIH and should consult with their dermatologist to determine if a chemical peel is right for them.

The most effective treatments sequence peels with a topical prescription creams. Priming the skin with a topical cream for at least four weeks prior to peeling is an essential part of treatment. The priming ensures uniform penetration of the peel and also reduces the risk of PIH.

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What Are The Types Of Chemical Peels?

There are three types of chemical peels. All peels should be combined with topical dark spot treatments to improve efficacy. These topical treatments, also known as bleaching creams contain a combination of ingredients that are applied to the skin to either remove dark patches, such as melasma, or reduce the amount of skin pigment.

Superficial peels

Superficial peels penetrate only the outermost layer of the skin to remove pigment. Superficial peels provide improvement with the least risk of complications. This is because stronger and deeper peeling agents cause more inflammation, which has the potential to worsen pigmentation.

Superficial peels generally take a week or more to heal.

Medium depth peels

Medium depth peels remove the outer and middle layers of the skin to improve the appearance of age spots, skin discoloration, and more. Medium depth peels can be repeated between three and nine months to maintain a clear complexion.

Medium depth peels generally take one to two weeks to heal.

Deep peels

Deep peels remove damaged skin cells in the lower dermal layer of the skin to improve the appearance of sun damage, age spots, and more. These peels require both pretreatment and several weeks’ recovery time. However, the effects of deep peels may last as long as ten years.

Deep peels generally take two to three weeks to heal.

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What Are The Ingredients In Chemical Peels For Lightening Dark Spots?

The superficial peels most frequently used to lighten dark spots are alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic and lactic acid), beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid) and trichloroacetic acid (TCA).

  • Glycolic acid (GA) is the most common alpha-hydroxy acid peel and is also known as a fruit peel. It is simple, inexpensive, and has no downtime. GA peels have anti-inflammatory, keratolytic, and antioxidant effects. For melasma, it is used in concentrations of 30-70%. Sessions are conducted 2-3 weeks apart for a total series of 4-6 treatments.
  • Lactic acid (LA), which is derived from milk, works by decreasing skin cell cohesion. This type of peel is beneficial for lightening dark spots when used at 92% strength with double coats that are applied for 10 minutes every 3 weeks.
  • Salicylic acid (SA) has been used to treat various skin disorders for more than 2,000 years. The ability of salicylic acid to exfoliate the stratum corneum (the top layer of skin) makes it a good agent for peeling. Peels in 20-30% strength help eliminate superficial skin pigment. It causes the outermost layer of skin to shed and leaves a smooth post-peel texture. SA has an intrinsic ability to reduce inflammation, making it an especially useful agent for lightening dark spots, as it reduces the chance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
  • Trichloracetic acid (TCA) is a relative of vinegar and works on the principle of causticity (burning). The higher the concentration, the deeper the penetration, and the more skin cells that will be damaged and removed. At the lower strength of 15%, it can be used as a superficial peel. Sessions are conducted monthly, usually about four in total.

Post-Treatment Skincare Tips

Post-treatment maintenance with topical formulations and sunscreen is necessary to prevent skin discoloration from recurring.

In addition to using maintenance creams and sunscreen, ClearifiRx recommends the following post-treatment skincare tips:

  • Don’t pick at the skin, as this delays healing and can cause scarring.
  • Use moisturizer to help the skin stay hydrated.
  • Protect the skin from the sun using a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide with SPF 30 or greater. Sunscreen should be used concurrently with or prior to the start of your treatment.
Lilit Garibyan

Dr. Lilit Garibyan is a board certified dermatologist specializing in medical, cosmetic, and laser dermatology. She is also a lecturer in dermatology at Harvard Medical School where she also conducts innovative and cutting-edge research in dermatology. Dr. Garibyan obtained her bachelor's degree (BS) in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). She graduated with departmental, college and Latin honors (summa cum laude). She then completed both her medical degree (MD), and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in experimental pathology/immunology at Harvard Medical School. She completed her dermatology residency at Harvard/MGH Combined Dermatology Residency Program. After residency, Dr. Garibyan completed postdoctoral fellowship training at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine under the expert guidance of Dr. Rox Anderson. Dr. Garibyan has published several articles in peer-reviewed journals and frequently gives talks at national and international conferences. Dr. Garibyan has also organized and pioneered the establishment of a medical laser clinic in Yerevan, Armenia for the treatment of scars and vascular lesions.

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