The goal of any peel is to remove the very outer layers of skin, revealing smoother, younger appearing skin underneath. This can be done either with chemicals or using a laser. The results you see are directly dependent on the depth of the peel. That is, the deeper the peel, the more significant the results. Superficial peels are confined to the epidermis, which is the outer layer of skin (see diagram below). Recovery from a superficial peel is characterized by a few days of redness and flaking of the skin. Deep peels may go down into the dermis, creating what is essentially a partial thickness burn. And healing from a deep peel can take two weeks or longer.
Deep or superficial peels can be done with both laser and chemicals. But I think the trend is moving toward chemical peels being a lighter depth peel, and a laser being used for deeper peels. Aestheticians and cosmetic therapists can perform superficial chemical peels. These peels come in a kit (e.g. the Vitalize Peel by Skin Medica), and the results are very predictable. There is minimal to no redness afterward. Mild flaking starts at about two days after the peel, and lasts 3-5 days. Deeper peels should be done by a physician. I prefer to use a laser because the depth of the peel is very consistent and easy to adjust. The deeper the peel, the more impressive the result is, and the longer the downtime. Having a series of peels instead of a single peel will also give more dramatic results. So chemical peels and laser peels are really just different tools used to achieve similar goals. Your doctor will help guide you toward a specific treatment depending on the results you’re looking for, how much downtime you have, and your budget.
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