When you see the words “chemical” and “acid”, you may automatically think of a mad scientist’s laboratory, complete with bubbling beakers and steaming cauldrons. When you see those same words coupled with other words such as “skin treatment”, you may really start looking around for Dr. Frankenstein.
The fact is, however, that a chemical acid peel is actually a safe and beneficial skin treatment, when done properly. That is because the ingredients used in acid peels are diluted to a safe level before they are applied. This is true whether you have the procedure done by a dermatologist or you choose to do it yourself.
OK, now you may be picturing your kitchen or bathroom as the location of the mad scientist’s laboratory. Again, this is not true. Home chemical peel treatments come with specific instructions on how to properly mix and dilute the chemicals so that they can be safely applied to your skin.
Now that you have been reasonably assured that neither a degree in Chemistry nor a trip to the local mad scientist will be required, you may start reading up on what exactly makes up a chemical acid peel. All may be proceeding well until you see such words as “Alphahydroxy acids” “phenol” and other scientific- and scary-sounding words. When you look at the ingredients separately, however, you may find that they are not so bad after all.
For example, Alphahydroxy acids, or AHAs, occur naturally in some foods, although they can be artifically made in a laboratory. Naturally-occurring AHAs, however, can be found in such things as sugar, fruit, and even milk (ever hear of lactic acid?)
Need more proof? Here are a few common fruits and the specific acid that they produce:
Grapes: tartaric acid
Apples and pears: malic acid
Oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits: citric acid.
Of all the acids found naturally in foods and other substances, glycolic acid is perhaps the most popular one when it comes to substances which may be used in a chemical acid peel. That is because glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane, and is considered one of the safest and most gentle of all acids used in a chemical peel. Of all the acids, any of the AHAs, such as those listed above, and glycolic acid are the weakest, and thus are used most often.
For those wanting or requiring a deeper chemical acid peel, trichloracetic acid, is often used as a chemical peel. The word “trichloracetic” itself may look complicated, but when broken down, it actually becomes quite simple.
Trichloracetic acid, also known as TCA, is a variation of ordinary acetic acid. Acetic is an organic compound, found in such products as ordinary household vinegar. In fact, it is this acid that makes vinegar smell like, well, vinegar.
Acetic acid becomes tca when the three hydrogen atoms that are part of the make-up of acetic acid are replaced with chlorine atoms. Thus the name tri (meaning three) chlor (denoting chlorine) acetic (for the acid from which it originated) acid.
TCA is definitely stronger than the AHAs or Glycolic Acid treatments, and is used, as mentioned earlier, for a more extensive chemical peel. It is possible to buy TCA acid peels for home use; however, extreme care should be taken when using it.
Phenol acid, also called carbolic acid (yes, it’s the same very corrosive acid that you’ve always heard about and were warned about getting close to) comes from either coal tar or is a particular type of benzene derivative. This acid is VERY STRONG, and is generally only used by trained professionals. It is possible to buy a chemical peel with this strong acid; however, it is probably best to allow a dermatologist to perform a treatment with this substance.