Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Chemical Peels for Darker Skin Tones October 16, 2012

Recently a blog reader who was African-American asked if it was safe for her to get a chemical peel.  My answer was resounding “yes, but” and by that I meant – yes, but make sure you are careful.  The reason for my warning?  The darker your skin tone the more prone you are to hyperpigmentation which means you can receive a chemical peel you just can’t have a very deep one.

First let me just refresh your memory, in case you need it, to the benefits of chemical peels.  The WebMD article Chemical Peels and Your Skin explains what peels can do for your skin:

Chemical peels can be done on the face, neck, or hands. They can be used to:

  • Reduce fine lines under the eyes and around the mouth
  • Treat wrinkles caused by sun damage and aging
  • Improve the appearance of mild scars
  • Treat certain types of acne
  • Reduce age spots, freckles, and dark patches (melasma) due to pregnancy or taking birth control pills
  • Improve the look and feel of skin

Areas of sun damage may improve after chemical peeling.

After a chemical peel, skin is temporarily more sensitive to the sun, so wear sunscreen every day.

According to the Skin Inc. article Understanding Darker Skin Tones does a good job of explaining the unique issues facing darker skin tones:

Despite prevailing misconceptions, if you’ve got darker skin, you’re not immune to the effects of sun damage and premature aging. While the rules of cleanse, moisturize and SPF apply to everyone, darker tones do need unique care. Mona Gohara, MD, assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine department of dermatology in New Haven, CT, a key promoter of skin care awareness and sun safety in non-Caucasian populations, explains the chemistry and concerns of darker skin.

1. What is the basic skin biology of people of color?

There are three layers that comprise the human skin: the epidermis, the dermis and fat. Within the epidermis there are pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin, which is the substance that confers skin color. People all have the same number of melanocytes, regardless of complexion–the browner you are, the more melanin you are producing. In short, melanin determines skin color. Melanin has many different functions in human skin. Most importantly, it provides inherent protection against the sun and is a natural antioxidant.

2. What are some of the common skin issues affecting people with darker skin tones? Are these issues different than people with lighter skin tones and if so, why?

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is a condition that occurs more frequently in individuals with darker skin. It is localized skin darkening that occurs after trauma or inflammation. For example, when people of color get a pimple, for some reason melanocytes rev up and produce more melanin. As a result, when the lesion fades, the skin gets darker. The same phenomenon applies for cuts, bruises and resolving rashes. To treat PIH, you need to use an SPF of 30 or higher every day, and give it time. Other remedies such as hydroquinones, retinol, glycolic acid and chemical peels can also help speed up the process.

So how can you make sure that you are helping your skin instead of hurting it when you get a chemical peel?  According to the article Peels and Hyperpigmentation by Pamela Springer from the July/August 2012 issue of Skin Deep you need to keep the following things in mind:

Generally, peels and other exfoliating agents are used to resolve photodamage, fine lines and wrinkles, and dyschromias (the brown spots associated with aging).  These conditions are most often seen in individuals with lighter skin coloring, Fitzpatrick I-III.  Those with pigmented skin, Fitzpatrick IV-VI, are more likely to have conditions such as dark postacne lesions, hyperkeratosis, pigmentary reactions, pseudofolliculitis barbae, or textural changes.  But despite the disparities, dark skin is not as complex as one would image, and it will respond well to superficial chemical peeling as long as certain protocols are followed.  …

The outcome of a chemical peel is determined by how well the skin has been prepared.  For darker skin, the concern is avoiding PIH [post inflammatory hyperpigmentation].  Peels that penetrate too deeply can generate heat or erythema (redness) while on the skin, potentially altering melanin synthesis and/or causing abnormal melanin distribution.  Deep penetration can also destroy the melanocyte, leaving an area of the skin void of color.

To decrease this risk, the client should be placed on a pretreatment home-care regimen for four to eight weeks (depending on how dark the skin is) prior to a scheduled light- or medium-depth peel.  During this time, the goal is either repair the acid mantle or to perform other treatments that will enhance the outcome of the peel.  If the acid mantle is intact, the home-care regime should consist of a skin-lightening agent, 2-5 percent glycolic products, and a full-spectrum sunscreen.

There should be visible reduction of dyschromias after two to three weeks of the home-care regimen.  Priming the skin in this manner will go a long way toward eliminating post-peel complications.

The article further points out that manufacturer instructions for peels can be modified in order to work for darker skin tones.  For instance a peel that is supposed to be left on the skin for 5 minutes should be left on for 1 or 2 minutes on darker skin tones.  There are numerous peeling agents that can be used successfully on darker skin tones such as:  lactic acid, mandelic acid, salicylic acid, and jessner’s solution.

Tips for Before and After A Peel

If you are considering a peel and have a darker skin tone do some of research before getting a peel.  If you have a spa or doctor’s office in mind for where you want to do the peel ask to come in for either a facial or at the very least for a discussion with the esthetician who will performing the peel.  This way the esthetician can understand your skincare concerns and see your skin before the peel.  This is also the right time to assess what sort of pre-peel regime you need to be on at home in order to both enhance the peel results and to prevent any complications for arising.  This pre-peel consultation and/or facial is essential for the receiving the best result with your peel.  The esthetician should be able to clearly explain what type of peel she would choose to do on your skin and why and how she might modify the peel because of your skin color/tone.  You should also discuss post-peel treatments in order to calm the skin and prevent any PIH.  If you have any allergies, have had an adverse reaction to a skincare product or ingredient in the past, are on any medications and/or prescription skincare products, or spend a lot of time in the sun all of these issues need to be discussed in length with your esthetician before having a peel.  Also keep in mind that sometimes the best results from peels come after a series not just from one peel.

Bottom Line:  Anyone with a darker skin tone can benefit from a chemical peel as long as they properly prepare their skin before hand, receive the peel from someone who knows the risks in involved with peeling darker skin tones, and practices proper post-peel care.  Chemicals peels remain a viable and great option for a host of skin issues for all skin colors and ethnicities.

My Related Posts:

General Reading About Chemical Peels:

Articles About Ethnic Skincare:

Image – Three Friends by William H. Johnson from


Can Chemical Peels Prevent Certain Skin Cancers? June 11, 2012

Chemical peels are a great way to rejuvenate the skin and an excellent way to treat many skin conditions like acne and hyperpigmentation.  But it turns out that chemical peels can do even more than that – some peels might help prevent further development of superficial skin cancers.

According to Morag Currin in her book Oncology Esthetics *(page 134):

Superficial chemical exfoliations and peels are recommended for treatment of skin conditions that primarily affect the epidermis such as actinic keratosis and superficial skin cancers.  There is a usually a decrease in the incidence of superficial skin cancers after resurfacing procedures.

Chemical exfoliation and peels are not the only treatment for skin cancers, however, any resurfacing procedures (the deeper the better) may actually decrease the chance of developing superficial skin cancers and precancerous lesions.

Strong chemical peels may kill very early skin cancer cells since the treatment removes the top layer of sun damaged skin, which can include precancerous cells as well as sun-damaged cells, and give the skin a rough, blemished and discolored appearance.

Renee Rouleau concurs on the same subject in a recent blog post of hers:

Exfoliation by using facial scrubsacid serums and professional chemical peels are all popular treatments for shedding dead skin cells to improve the look and feel of your skin. But the latest research now shows another benefit of exfoliation: the reduction of  the number of actinic keratosis–skin lesions that can develop into squamous cell cancer. For home use, physicians recommend glycolic acid serums in formulas up to 20%.

So remember – the next time you are considering a chemical peel as a way to treat your skin remember that there are added medical benefits to getting that peel.

My Related Posts:

*  I recently completed Currin’s 3 day intensive course on oncology esthetics and highly recommend it to all my fellow estheticians who are interested in working with cancer patients.  I learned so much!

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