- Chemical peels include AHAs like glycolic acid, BHAs like salicylic acid, and TCA.
- They can treat dark spots by removing the top layers of skin, allowing it to regenerate. This regenerated skin can be more evenly pigmented.
- Lighter peels can be used at home, but deeper peels should be applied by a dermatologist.
- All peels can cause side effects like redness, irritation and sun sensitivity regardless of skin type or tone.
- Dark skin is more prone to side effects from chemical peel use and should avoid it as a treatment.
- If peels are used on dark skin regardless, salicylic acid is the best choice because it is anti-inflammatory and can lessen the risk of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Chemical peels are deep exfoliants that can break up clusters of melanin forming dark spots. There are a number of different types and concentrations of chemical peels. Weak peels can be used at home to treat surface-level dark spots. For more severe hyperpigmentation more potent peels can be applied by a professional.
Can Chemical Peels Treat Hyperpigmentation?
As well as treating acne, fine lines, sun damage and scarring, chemical peels are effective in treating all types of dark spots. The extent to which dark spots are reduced depends on the concentration and type of peel being used, as well as the severity of the dark spots.
How does it work?
Hyperpigmentation, or “dark spots”, refers to patches of skin that are darker than your normal skin tone. It is caused by the clustering of excess melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. The three primary causes of this are sun exposure, inflammation and hormonal changes.
A chemical peel works by removing the top layers of skin, allowing new, healthy skin to form in its place. This can reduce the appearance of dark spots by removing unwanted melanin from the skin. When new skin forms it should be more evenly pigmented.
Chemical Peels vs microdermabrasion
Chemical peels are more efficient than microdermabrasion for treating dark spots. Both microdermabrasion and chemical peels remove outer layers of skin, allowing skin cells to regenerate. However, microdermabrasion is a physically abrasive exfoliant that works on the surface level, while peels work more subtly and deeper in the skin.
Both treatments can cause irritation of sensitive skin that is prone to scarring and inflammation. Deep peels should not be used by those with dark skin, but microdermabrasion can be undergone by any skin type or tone.
Best Chemical Peels To Treat Facial Hyperpigmentation
There are three common types of chemical peels:
- Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels like glycolic acid
- Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) peels like salicylic acid
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels
How deeply a peel works depends more upon the concentration than on the type of acid. Even light peels can treat dark spots, but more visible results might be seen from deeper peels with higher concentrations.
Glycolic acid peel
A glycolic acid peel is an AHA peel that can treat dark spots. It is milder than other AHA peels and is safe to use, risking minimal side effects. It is best suited to treating surface hyperpigmentation because it doesn’t penetrate deep into the skin. AHA peels are also better for those with dry skin. Glycolic acid has shown good results for treating dark spots with minimal side effects at a stronger 30–50% concentration.
Salicylic acid peel
A salicylic acid peel is a BHA peel that can treat dark spots. It is mild and safe to use, risking minimal side effects. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, meaning it is well suited to dark spots caused by inflammation such as those that are caused by acne. BHA peels are also better for those with oily skin. Salicylic acid has shown good results for treating dark spots at a stronger 20–30% concentration.
Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peel
TCA peels are medium to deep peels that have been shown to treat hyperpigmentation effectively. Light hyperpigmentation can be treated with TCA of 10–15% concentration. Deeper-seated dark spots might require TCA of stronger 20–25% concentration. This type of peel is best suited to deeper deposits of melanin, as it penetrates deeper than other peels.
Lactic acid peel
A lactic acid peel is an AHA peel that is milder than other AHA peels like glycolic acid. It has been shown to effectively treat dark spots. It doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid and can be bought in weak concentrations such as 5–10%. This makes it better for those with sensitive skin, who might see irritation from the use of a glycolic acid peel.
Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation on Black Skin
Those with Fitzpatrick skin type 4–6 should avoid using chemical peels, as they risk prolonged hyperpigmentation. Black skin is classified as Fitzpatrick type 6 and should avoid using peels if possible. If peels are used, a light BHA peel like salicylic acid is best for black skin, because it is mild and anti-inflammatory, meaning it will lessen any post inflammatory hyperpigmentation that might occur.
At Home Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation
Chemical peels like AHAs, BHAs and TCA peels can be bought over-the-counter and used at home. However, you should only use weak peels at home, and more potent peels should be applied by a dermatologist to lessen the risk of chemical burn.
Low-strength salicylic, glycolic and lactic acid peels are superficial peels that are best suited for at-home use. Even weak OTC peels can effectively treat dark spots, and higher concentration peels are only necessary for deep-seated dark spots.
Natural or DIY recipe chemical peels like those that use vinegar should be avoided, as these have a high risk of causing irritation and chemical burn.
How to do a chemical peel at home
- Patch test your skin, applying a small amount of the peel to your forearm for 30 seconds. Check for any negative reaction to the skin 48 hours later. If there is little or no reaction you can proceed.
- Do not exfoliate your skin before applying the peel.
- Gently wash and cleanse your skin, then dry.
- Apply petroleum jelly around sensitive areas like the mouth, eyes and nose to protect them.
- Use a cotton pad to apply a thin, even layer of chemical peel to the skin.
- Leave the peel on your skin for the amount of time indicated on its instructions.
- Apply any neutralizing solution that is provided to the areas of skin with the peel on.
- Rinse the peel and neutralizer off your skin, and apply a moisturizer and sunscreen of SPF 30 or above.
Peels that are used at home should be weak in strength and involve little downtime. You should wait at least two weeks before applying any more chemical peel to your skin. You should also ensure you regularly apply sunscreen of SPF 30 or above, as chemical peels increase sun sensitivity. On the days following the application of a peel, you should avoid any harsh or abrasive products in your skin care routine.
Side effects that can occur from the use of all chemical peels include:
- Skin redness
- Skin peeling
- Sun sensitivity
Deeper peels are more likely to cause severe irritation and risk further side effects, such as:
- Skin discoloration
- Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation
- Bacterial or fungal infection
- Skin redness that lasts for weeks or months
Can Chemical Peels Cause Hyperpigmentation?
Chemical peels can cause hyperpigmentation when the inflammation that they cause triggers the production of excess melanin. Weak peels are less likely to cause further hyperpigmentation, especially when sunscreen is applied regularly post-treatment to prevent sun-induced dark spots. Salicylic acid peels are also less likely to cause further dark spots than other types of peel because they are anti-inflammatory.
Chemical peels work by penetrating and removing the top layers of skin, allowing it to regenerate. This new skin can be more evenly pigmented, reducing the appearance of dark spots. Lighter peels with a weaker concentration can be used at home for more superficial treatment, but deeper peels can be applied by a dermatologist to treat dark spots that are more severe and deep-seated.
All peels can cause side effects like redness, irritation and sun sensitivity regardless of skin type or tone. However, dark skin is particularly prone to side effects from chemical peel use, so those with darker skin tones should avoid peels as a treatment. If peels are used on dark skin, salicylic acid is the best choice because it is anti-inflammatory and can lessen the risk of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.
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