Can Darker Skin Types Benefit From Skin Peels?
It is often mistakenly believed that chemical peels are unsuitable for people with darker skin tones. The truth is, however, they can be performed safely on all skin tones, as long as the correct application protocols are followed.
Chemical peels can be used to treat skin conditions that are prevalent amongst darker skin types. A few indications include the treatment of hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, large pores, sun damage, abnormal growths and oily skin. Depending on the quality of the chemical formula as well as the practitioner’s application methods, peels offer considerable relief from the symptoms of these conditions, restoring a normal and more youthful complexion.
The treatment of skin conditions in Fitzpatrick IV-VI individuals using chemical peels is in many ways similar, and in certain ways different, to the treatment protocols recommended for those with Fitzpatrick I-III skin types. Variables also include the type of peel used as well as its concentration, although a pre-treatment programme is always essential.
Prior to the use of a chemical peeling agent, a structured pre-treatment chemical peel preparation routine minimises the risk of developing side effects such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation after treatment. Such complications are more common amongst darker skin types.
A recommended preparatory routine may include several of the following steps:
• Use of a retinoid cream like tretinoin to speed up skin cell turnover and prepare the skin for the eventual controlled resurfacing and subsequent healing processes. This is usually discontinued at least 7 days prior to the peel.
• Use of lightening agents in order to preclude unwanted darkening of the skin (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) after the peel.
• Avoidance of unprotected exposure to the sun to reduce the risk of irregular pigmentation in all areas designated for treatment.
• Avoidance of certain cosmetic treatments at least one week before the chemical peel.
• Avoidance of waxing, exfoliating and depilatory hair removal creams at least one week prior.
• Avoidance of hair bleaching for one week before the peel.
• Informing your practitioner if you have a history of keloid scarring, cold sores, aspirin allergy or poor wound healing.
• Informing your practitioner if you are taking hormonal supplements (including birth control or HRT), as these medications may lead to hyperpigmentation, irrespective of the peeling agent’s activity.
Recommended skin peels
Some of the most effective chemical peels suitable for people with darker skin types include glycolic acid, TCA, salicylic acid and Jessner’s solution peels. The characteristics of these chemical peels vary, yet all can significantly improve the skin’s health:
• TCA peels: Depending on the concentration, this is a medium to strong chemical peel that effectively reduces stubborn pigmentation and light to moderate scars. TCA peels are also used for softening deeper wrinkles and can even remedy deep icepick scarring via a spot treatment method known as TCA C.R.O.S.S. For darker skin types, a customised layering method is recommended, whereby lower concentrations of TCA are applied. This differs from the common approach towards lighter skin types, where a stronger concentration of TCA is applied to the skin, with fewer layers applied in total. Despite the self-neutralising nature of TCA, neutralisation may be necessary for darker skin types to avert ‘frosting’ of the skin, which indicates that the penetration depth has reached the skin’s melanocytes.
• Glycolic peels: People with dark skin typically opt for glycolic peels with the intention of reducing the prevalence of papules, pustules and mild melasma. They are particularly suitable for oily skin types, which makes them a popular choice amongst those with darker complexions who suffer from active acne. Glycolic peels must be neutralised after several minutes, with the time depending on individual characteristics and prior peel tolerance.
• Lactic acid peels: A mild chemical peel with lactic acid evens the skin’s tone, addresses mild hyperpigmentation and improves rough skin texture.
• Jessner’s peels: A Jessner’s peel combines an AHA and BHA acid, sometimes with or without resorcinol. This medium-depth peel evens out the skin tone and minimises dark scars.
• The Perfect Peel: This blended peel is specifically designed to treat pigmented skin and melasma. It brightens the skin, reduces age spots, diminishes pore size and softens fine lines.
• The VI Peel: This chemical peel reduces hyperpigmentation, sun damage and other signs of photoageing. It also improves skin’s texture, clears acne and reduces scarring. One of its main benefits is the stimulation of collagen and elastin production, restoring the youthful appearance of the skin.
• Vitamin C peels: The natural antioxidant potential of vitamin C improves the skin’s health by protecting it against free radicals. It also brightens the skin’s tone and enhances its natural glow.
• Salicylic acid peels: These superficial and light chemical peels are perfect for rejuvenating dry and aged skin through the sloughing of dead skin cells. They are particularly suitable for more sensitive dark skin types and their anti-inflammatory properties make them ideal for the treatment of acne and melasma.
Generally speaking, a gradual approach is recommended in order to avoid side effects in those with darker skin types. This may involve layering lower concentrations of a specific chemical peeling solution and undergoing follow up treatments with moderate to high concentrations of the same peeling agent, or starting with a superficial chemical peeling agent before graduating to different medium-depth and stronger peels performed over several sessions. Reducing the amount of contact time with the skin and/or spacing sessions out may also be recommended for darker skin types undergoing glycolic and TCA treatments for the first time.
For those who are uncertain about their potential for unwanted reactions, a preliminary patch test can be performed several weeks prior in a discreet facial location (behind the ear, for example).
In some cases, chemical peels may lead to the development of mild to moderate side effects caused by the inflammation of melanocytes. If they occur, these side effects are comparatively more severe in individuals with darker skin types than in those with lighter skin. Negative early side effects include delayed healing, persistent redness and milia. These can be effectively managed. Later stage side effects include persistent hyperpigmentation and/or hypopigmentation, which can also be managed, although they are particularly undesirable in cases where the treatment is often sought to improve pigmentary issues.
These side effects can be avoided by undertaking adequate pre-treatment before the procedure, as well as rigorous aftercare that involves the regular application of moisturiser and sun protection. The experience and methodology of your practitioner play a vital role in minimising the risk of side effects whilst achieving optimal end results. It is important to maintain contact and raise any issues throughout the duration of the healing period.
During the peel
All superficial to medium-depth peels can be performed in a clinical setting. The skin is cleaned and degreased thoroughly before the chemical solution is applied in layers. This creates a controlled wound, replacing damaged cells whilst stimulating the skin to produce new ones.
During a chemical peel, you will feel a mild to moderate burning and stinging sensation for roughly 5 to 10 minutes. A fan is often helpful in easing these symptoms. If desired, numbing agents can be used in advance of the peel to make the treatment more comfortable.
Chemical peels can be performed safely in people with darker skin types without adverse side effects, as long as the procedures are performed by practitioners with significant experience in treating skin types IV-VI. Due to the expertise required in order to form a safe and effective treatment plan and exercise judgement regarding the concentration and application of chemical peels for varied skin conditions, it is essential that you select the right practitioner to perform your treatment, avoiding inexperienced practitioners and/or self-treatment at home.
At bea Skin Clinic, we specialise in chemical peels for darker skin types. Get in touch with us to find out more.