Alpha hydroxyacid is the term used for several naturally occurring acids found in fruits and other foods. These include lactic acid, derived from sour milk; citric acid, derived from citric fruit such as oranges; and glycolic acid, derived from sugar cane. Alpha hydroxyacids have been used for centuries. Cleopatra used lactic acid from sour milk to lessen lines and blemishes on her face.
Alpha hydroxyacids are helpful in treating a variety of skin ailments. They have proven to be effective in treating dry skin, acne, liver or sun spots, lessening fine facial wrinkles, and improving skin texture. Recent studies have also shown that alpha hydroxyacids can reverse precancerous skin lesions, which are due to long term sun exposure. These acids have been shown to increase skin thickness up to 15% in patients with sun damaged thin skin. This occurs through the stimulation of collagen production, the skins natural support protein. Alpha hydroxyacids also work by loosening and removing dead skin cells.
Many people ask if alpha hydroxyacids are safe. It is important to point out that these acids are in many of the healthiest foods we eat and drink including orange juice. They are thought to be very safe when used correctly.
Alpha hydroxyacids can be used in low concentrations as found in many cosmetics available over the counter, in medium concentrations which are available in doctor’s offices, and in high concentrations. When used in high concentrations, they are best applied by a professional at intervals of three to six weeks. This is known as a series of acid peels. The alpha hydroxyacid used most commonly for peels is gylocic acid. Unlike other chemical peels, alpha hydroxyacids are not toxic to the skin.
What are the side effects of alpha hydroxyacid peels?
The most common side effect after a peel is brown discoloration of the skin. This is usually reversible but can rarely be permanent. This side effect usually occurs only in those who have had sun exposure after a peel.
Peels can also cause persistent redness of the skin. If you get cold sores, a peel can cause them to flare. This can be prevented by taking a prescription drug called Acyclovir.
Should anyone not get a peel?
Those with any of the following issues should not opt for alpha hydroxyacid peels:
- Isotretinoin use within the past six (6) months
- Active herpes simplex (cold sores)
- Facial Warts
- If you are now pregnant
- If you form keloid or hypertrophic scars
- If you have a history of sun allergies
- Prior bad reaction to a peel
- Recent radiation treatment for cancer
- Sun burn or significant sun exposure in the last two days
- Surgery or cryosurgery within the last month to the area that you plan to have peeled
How do you prepare for a chemical peel?
Two weeks before your peel, you typically begin a Neostrata regimen, recommended by your esthetician. At least three to four weeks before your first peel, you should stop using Retin-A, exfoliating sponges and any hair removal products you may be using.
On the day of your treatment, arrive at the doctor’s or esthetician’s office with a fully cleansed face. If possible, no cologne or after shave should be applied. Also try to avoid shaving the day of your peel.
In order to prevent an unanticipated deepening of your peel, please inform the professional performing the procedure if you have accidentally used one of the restricted products.
How is the chemical peel done?
First, the technician will go over all of the possible side effects of a peel with you and you’ll be asked to sign a consent form allowing the procedure to be performed. Next, your skin will be cleansed thoroughly with Neostrata PrePeel cleanser.
Petroleum jelly will be applied to the corners of the eyes, nose, and mouth. Glycolic acid will then be applied to one area of the face at a time. The glycolic acid will then be left on the skin for several minutes. The skin will burn and tingle. When the skin becomes uncomfortable, tell the technician and he or she will neutralize the peel.
After the peel has been neutralized, the face is rinsed. NutriCream and sunscreen are then applied. That’s the whole procedure in a nutshell.
What do I do afterwards?
For 2-4 days after the peel, apply the Post-Peel NutriCream twice daily until the skin returns to its normal appearance. Then restart your maintenance regimen of NeoStrata products.
You must use a sunscreen of SPF 25 or higher every morning before going out. Sunlight on the skin after a peel can cause brown discoloration of the skin. Apply the sunscreen over the NeoStata NutriCream. A good sunscreen to use is Shade Lotion SPF 45.
You may start wearing make-up the day after your peel, provided you do not have any crusting or tenderness. To avoid the possibility of scarring, don’t peel, pick, scrape, or scratch the skin. Avoid the use of abrasive or exfoliating sponges.
If you have persistent redness in an area, let your doctor know right away. Persistent redness of the skin can lead to brown discoloration of the red area if it is not treated promptly.
Do not use Retin-A during your peel sessions and for one month after the last peel.
During your series of alpha hydroxyacid peels, and for at least one month after the last treatment, you should not have hair removed by any technique because it can cause severe irritation of the skin. Also, you should avoid intense sunlight because you are sensative to the sun as well.