If you’ve ever signed up for a dermatologist or spa-level facial peel, then you know…the procedure can produce extraordinary skin results, but the immediate after-math is, well, a bit scary to see. At-home peels, however, are a completely different animal. Many of the same skin benefits and rewards, but without the post-peel skin wreckage. The reason is that at-home chemical peels are actually a gentle way to exfoliate your skin.
What is the purpose of exfoliating? Over time, skin cells can build up on your face, leading to dullness, roughness and clogged pores (which contribute to breakouts). Exfoliating loosens the bonds that keep old cells glued to the upper layer of skin, allowing old cells and impurities to fall away, and fresh new cells to show through. Another one of the benefits of exfoliating your skin: it helps your skin absorb skincare products more effectively. Without a layer of dead cells standing in their way, all those important anti-aging ingredients can get to work helping to firm skin, smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and reduce discoloration.
Your body does have its own, built-in mechanism for getting rid of old skin cells—it naturally sheds them about every six weeks, a process referred to as cell turnover. But like other body processes (your metabolism, for example), skin cell turnover gets slow and rusty with age. Chemical peels can not only kick-start this process, but keep it running smoothly.
The difference between physical and chemical exfoliants
There are two different ways to exfoliate your skin. Both help to remove dead skin cells, but utilize completely different systems to get your skin smooth and glowing.
The first, and most common, involves rubbing a granular scrub that contains tiny particles onto your face to remove dead skin cells. There are various types of particles used in scrubs ranging from nutshells to coffee grinds to jojoba beans to sugar. Yet they all essentially do the same thing—slough off the top layer of dead skin cells. In addition to scrubs, loofah sponges, motorized face brushes and bristled face brushes also function as physical exfoliants.
While physical exfoliation provides instant results, “physical exfoliation is too harsh for delicate face skin,” says Dr. Perricone. The friction can cause micro-tears, which is a type of inflammatory response. Micro-tears are like tiny, invisible cuts that weaken the skin’s protective barrier and let bacteria and other toxins burrow into the skin, resulting in damage. This tends to be especially true for people with dry or sensitive skin. Those with blemish-prone skin also aren’t good candidates for physical exfoliation. When skin is rubbed too aggressively, the body reacts by producing more oil to soothe and calm the skin—and that extra oil can lead to blemishes.
This relies on gentle acids to remove old skin cells. Ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) or poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs) are applied to the skin to increase cell turnover and brighten the skin. Which chemical you choose depends on your skin type and condition.
Alpha-hydroxy acids are water-soluble and work on the skin’s surface. They are primarily used to protect the skin from sun damage, fine lines and dullness. AHAs include glycolic acid, which is derived from sugar and contains the smallest molecules, thus can penetrate the skin more easily; lactic acid, the second smallest molecules, comes from sugar and fermented milk; and fruit acids, which have the largest molecules, target just the outermost layer of skin. Fruit acids are the most gentle of the bunch, and are often used in combination with glycolic or lactic acid to boost their effectiveness and prevent irritation.
Beta-hydroxy acids (like salicylic acid) are typically used in helping to manage blemish-prone skin. When the old skin cells fall away, the oil in your pores goes along for the ride, clearing up blemishes, and preventing future breakouts.
Poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs) are another type of acid. They tend to fly under the radar, but they serve an important purpose. PHAs, like gluconolactone, are excellent exfoliants that attract water while whisking away dead skin cells, making them especially gentle and hydrating.
The power of the Vitamin C Ester Daily Brightening & Exfoliating Peel
Perricone MD’s resurfacing vitamin C peel uses an AHA / PHA Super Blend to gently exfoliate the skin. The peel pairs glycolic acid and gluconolactone (to boost collagen, exfoliate and even skin tone) with five fruit-derived acids. These fruit acids that include sugarcane, bilberry, orange, lemon and sugar maple help to reduce the appearance of fine lines.
While the AHA / PHA Super Blend does the exfoliating, additional ingredients address other skin concerns. Vitamin C Ester is one of them. It’s an easily absorbable form of antioxidant-rich vitamin C that helps smooth, brighten and reduce discoloration. Also in the formula, there is ferulic acid, a natural substance found in the seeds and leaves of plants, to fight fine lines and wrinkles. Despite its name, ferulic acid isn’t really an acid – it’s more of an antioxidant, meaning that it fights free radical damage that contributes to discoloration and dark spots. Ferulic acid is a good partner for vitamin C, as it helps stabilize it and enhance its effectiveness.
When should you exfoliate in your skincare routine?
It’s best to exfoliate after cleansing your skin. You can either apply the Vitamin C Ester Daily Brightening & Exfoliating Peel with your fingertips or by saturating a cotton pad. Apply it all over your face and neck, being careful to avoid your eye area. No need to rinse off the peel, either. Once it’s fully soaked into your skin, just apply your favorite Perricone MD treatment and moisturizer—and you’re good to go. This peel can be used in the morning to get an instant glow, or applied before bed so you wake up with luminous skin.
While professional strength chemical peels (the kind you would get at a dermatologist’s office or a spa) can leave skin red, raw, dry and flaky for several days, the Vitamin C Ester Daily Brightening & Exfoliating Peel doesn’t involve any downtime or discomfort. It’s powerful enough to give skin instant radiance, yet gentle enough to be used daily. Now that’s a glowing review.