Recently I was lucky enough to get a chemical peel at the Gild Clinic/Harley Academy in London. They do high-quality training in cosmetic dermatology including chemical peels, microneedling and injectables so they need quite a few models for their workshops and places are constantly available for discounted prices. The day I attended, the chemical peel workshop was held by clinic director Dr Emily MacGregor and aesthetic practitioner Maja Swierczynska to three lovely students (all doctors) who took their turns to practice the type of peel they were discussing and I was booked in for a 20% Neostrata Glycolic peel.
Before I go into the details of the treatment lets go back to basics: what exactly is a chemical peel?
Believe it or not, chemical peels go way back to Ancient Egypt where Cleopatra used sour milk to beautify her skin. Why sour milk you ask? Because the main active ingredient in sour milk is Lactic Acid which is a mild AHA. How clever!
Chemical peels are used for purposefully damaging the epidermis and/or dermis with the goal of stimulating new tissue to improve skin texture and tone. A type of chemical peels used widely for skin renewal are AHA peels (Glycolic Acid derived from sugar cane, Lactic Acid derived from milk, Malik Acid derived from apples and pears, Mandelic derived from bitter almonds, Tartaric Acid derived from grapes). They decrease the pH, which loosens the connections between dead skin cells, encouraging exfoliation so they help to remove dead surface skin cells to reveal fresh, healthy, smooth skin making it look firmer, more toned, more even and less blemished. Apart from the obvious exfoliating effect, AHAs are stimulating cell turnover and encourage anti-ageing effects in the skin layers. A course of chemical peels can also thicken the epidermis, increase dermal volume too which means the skin will have a stronger barrier function. Chemical peels are ideally performed in a clinic environment under the supervision of a aesthetic practitioner. For best results, you would have to have a series of treatments.
There are many varieties of peels from superficial to medium and deep depending on the depth of penetration of the ingredients. Superficial peels (like the 20% Glycolic peel I had) affect the various layers of the epidermis, medium-depth and deep peels go further down into the dermis. The strength of the peel depends on the type of ingredient, the concentration used and the PH of the formulation.
Superficial AHA peels are great entry level peels. They are called ‘lunchtime peels’ or ‘no peel peels’ because they don’t cause any actual peeling, there’s virtually no downtime after the treatment and they rarely cause side effects. Having said that, hyperpigmentation can still occur with certain darker skin types. Medium and deep peels require more commitment, there is a longer downtime involved and there is a higher chance of side effects like hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, scarring or infection.
Before you commit to any kind of peel you have to make sure you have a thorough consultation with your aesthetic practitioner because one peel doesn’t suit all. You have to have a specific ingredient in a specific concentration and formulation that works for your specific concerns let it be acne, skin texture, pigmentation, lines etc.
Neostrata 20% Glycolic Peel Review:
What it is: 20% concentration of glycolic acid, a form of Alpha Hydroxy Acid derived from sugar cane.
(The rest of the range consists of 35%, 50% and 70% glycolic acid used for more aggressive treatments of for example, sun damaged skin. During a course of treatments, you might jump up from 20% to higher concentrations to achieve greater results but it’s always advisable to start with the lower concentration so your skin has a chance to get used to it first.)
Preparation needed: yes – they give you the Neostrata Ultra Smoothing Lotion with 10% AHA to use every night for at least a week (maybe more if your skin is new to AHAs), and you have to stop using you major actives (like retinol) one or two weeks prior the treatment. If on Accutane, you have to take a 1-year break before treatment.
Neutralizing required: yes – acids have a very low pH levels, so you want to neutralize it to make it alkaline and not acidic. The longer you wait to neutralize it, the deeper the chemicals will go, and that can do more damage than good.
Where to do it: the NeoStrata Skin Rejuvenation System can only be performed in a clinic environment by a licenced aesthetic practitioner. Please don’t order it from Amazon and try it at home, it can go wrong.
What it does: they provide controlled removal of surface skin cells, stimulating skin renewal to improve the appearance of the skin. The result is healthier, younger-looking skin. It visibly reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles, smoothes softens the skin, hydrates and evens out the skin tone. It can also improve oily/acne prone skin. Higher strengths can help to reduce the appearance of acne scarring and certain pigmentation problems.
Areas that can be treated: they can be used on the face, the neck, the chest and the hands.
Who it is for: they can be used on all types of skin including fine, normal, oily or thick skin. If you have pigmentation or acne, you may also have a layered peel, where a Citric Acid or Mandelic Peel is applied first for a few minutes, before adding a Glycolic acid peel. It can also be used safely and effectively on black and Asian skin.
Don’t have it if: pregnant or breastfeeding; allergic to aspirin; you have sunburned or compromised skin; you use tanning bed; you have a serious medical condition like heart condition/problem, immunity disorder, Diabetes etc.; on medications for Diabetes Type 2, Lupus, chemo; you had permanent cosmetics procedure done (wait 7 days then cover with occlusive barrier); you have active cold sores or lesions, facial rash; you had a lift of facial surgery – needs doctor approval; you have rosacea – this will need to be evaluated; if you recently had facial waxing – this requires a 72 hour waiting period.
Procedure time: it is super quick and convenient, it only takes about fifteen minutes.
Downtime: there is little or no recovery time, you can be back to your normal routine the same day.
How many to get: It takes usually 4-6 treatments at 3 to 4-week intervals to achieve the desired effect.
The process: they remove makeup first, thoroughly cleanse the area treated to drop PH to get rid of oil from the surface of the skin, than the peel is applied with a brush (no mixing needed), they keep the peel on for the amount of time advised (this can be shorter if the skin is very sensitive and gets red quickly), than they spray the neutralizer on, work that in and wipe it off, the finishing step is applying SPF50.
Aftercare: they provide you with the Neostrata Bionic Lotion to strengthen the skin barrier and use SPF 30 or above every day to protect the results.
How it worked for me: as the peel was on I felt no pain but I have quite sensitive skin especially on my forehead so there was a bit of discomfort after a few minutes with mild stinging during the treatment. Initially, my face was red for a few hours (not everyone gets redness though) but it was gone by the evening. My skin felt sensitive for a couple of days but I made sure I used the lotion on lots of SPF to protect it. There was no visible flaking but the area treated was dryer than usual for a week due to the enhanced exfoliation with a few tiny breakouts. Luckily I was on holiday that week doing a lot of hiking so only my boyfriend and a few woodland birds noticed. After a week my skin cleared up and became a lot smoother and less dry. This is when I introduced back my favourite actives like retinol and Alpha Lipoic Acid and the results improved even more.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I highly recommend to check out the Gild clinic and their work. Modelling for student workshops is an excellent way to start non-surgical treatments if you are maybe shy to commit to a full-on course of treatments. Apart from the superficial AHA peels the Academy does Jessner, TCA and retinol peels too. The whole team is lovely too so get in touch with them online or watch their Instagram for training clinic dates and prices.