Recently, a client confided to me that she wanted to work on her fine lines, wrinkling and sun damage. I suggested that she have a Jessner peel. She explained to me that she'd gone to another spa and had a $300 glycolic peel that produced no peeling whatsoever, and so, she was justifiably curious as to what constitutes a peel.
So, what exactly is a peel and how do they work?
There are a lot of misconceptions about peels and understandably so, since what we refer to as a "peel" is actually part of a variety of products with results that offer a great range of effects from barely visible changes to those which require time to heal.
So, let's start with a few, common types of peels used by skincare professionals like me ranging from least to more agressive:
Lactic Acid: One of the gentlest exfoliants derived from milk, which generally does not produce actual peeling of the skin.
Enzymes: Oftentimes enzyme peels are derived from fruits like pineapple or pumpkin, and they are also a gentle peel/exfoliant that do not normally produce visible peeling.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid. This is also what's known as a "glycolic" peel, and generally speaking, glycolic peels are a form of exfoliation, and, when used in strengths of 5 - 30 percent may not produce any visible peeling or changes to the skin. They do enhance overall skin quality and brightness and over time will help with fine lines and wrinkling. This is sort of a maintenance type peel, again, used for better exfoliation.
Beta Hydroxy Acid. This is also called a "salicylic" peel and is often used to help refine skin and pores by allowing better cleaning. Like the glycolic, it has similar effects in that it doesn't normally produce visible peeling but can improve overall skin health and quality.
Jessner Peel. The "Jessner" Peel, named after it's creator, Dr. Jessner, is a combination of chemicals that can and often does produce peeling of the skin for several days. It works very well for congested, sluggish, oxygen-deprived skin and often produces lovely results for fine lines, sun damage and wrinkling. This is a more aggressive peel than the lactic, enzyme, glycolic or salicylic peels, however there are peels that are even more aggressive, which can be done by medical doctors.
Now that I have given a basic definition of a few popular peels, I would like to take a moment to discuss peeling and protection. It is my opinion that we consider our lifestyles when undertaking skin care. This being said, I recommend exercising caution in undertaking peeling under certain conditions -- most importantly seasonal changes. If you are planning on spending a good amount of time in the sun during summer season for swimming, hiking, gardening, boating, golfing, etc., you need to take this into consideration if you are contemplating a deep exfoliation.
This could translate to vigilance with sunscreen (I recommend SPF 30 or higher of a physical sunblock), or for those of us who live in the north, perhaps even planning your peeling during fall or winter, when the sun isn't as strong. If you're going to be outdoors a lot, you may need those dead skin cells for protection -- and my recommendation is to keep this in mind.
This reminds me of another note that I'd like to make: it's important to take breaks from using products that contain exfoliants like retinol, vitamin A or glycolic acid as these products should not be used on an all-the-time basis -- unless you have been specifically instructed to do so. As with all things, it's good to maintain balance and consult professionals who care for you.
Oh, and about that client? She went on to have a Jessner Peel and is loving the results! Her exact words were: "Now, *this* is a peel!"