Alpha Hydroxy Acid Peels

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Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels are usually performed to make the skin look brighter and more lustrous, to smooth texture and very fine lines, to reduce excess pigmentation or to accelerate the clearance of acne.

AHA’s occur in nature. AHA’s commonly used for cosmetic treatments are glycolic, lactic and mandelic acids. Glycolic acid is found in sugar cane, lactic acid in sour milk and mandelic acid in bitter almonds. Mandelic acid is an AHA with a larger molecular size than lactic or glycolic acids. It penetrates the skin more slowly and causes less discomfort. It is also oil soluble and may penetrate pores better.

AHA’s penetrate the skin to cause various positive effects within it. They loosen the bonds between surface corneocytes to cause exfoliation. Deeper within the skin they stimulate the production of collagen and hydrating acid and improve the quality of elastin fibres. The surface horny layer of the skin, if it contains an excess of the pigment melanin, is exfoliated to reduce hyperpigmentation and the formation of melanin within the skin can be reduced.

AHA peels commercially formulated for cosmetic use almost always have an acidity (pH) level of 3.0 or greater. AHA peels are performed using solutions of different concentrations. Using lactic acid as an example, often a 30% solution is used. These peels are low-risk as long as clients are screened for contraindications, such as severe recurrent facial cold sores, and standard protocols for their application are followed. High strength AHA peels should only be performed by very experienced practitioners.

After thorough cleansing the AHA solution is applied to the entire face, neck or décolletage. There is a tingling to a prickling sensation while the solution is on the skin. The therapist keenly watches the skin for the first signs of redness and quickly washes the solution off at this point. The skin then will be pink for up to a few hours. Makeup can be applied afterwards. There will either be no obvious flaking afterwards or a small amount of dandruff like flakes can be shed for a couple of days, beginning a few days after the peel. Usually no time is required off work.

These peels, with a pH greater than 3.0 and a concentration of 30% or less, are low-risk as long as the solution is washed off when facial redness appears or when the level of discomfort reaches a subjective level of 6 to 7 out of 10 on a 10 point scale, whichever occurs earlier.