What is a salicylic acid peel?
Salicylic acid is a chemical compound that is now synthesised, but originally was produced from the hormone salicin that comes from (among other plants) the bark of the willow tree.
Salicin has been long-valued for its medicinal and antibacterial properties, as an effective pain relief and for reducing fever and inflammation.
The synthesised salicin extract used in a salicylic acid peel is an acid solution that, when applied topically to the skin, may reduce scarring, fine lines, wrinkles, and other blemishes including:
- clogged pores
- congested (oily) skin.
How do salicylic acid peels treat active acne?
Salicylic acid peel may be available in different strengths or concentrations, but as a treatment for active acne we normally use a light, superficial peel that only affects the outer layers of the skin.
While this type of chemical peel works on most skin types, it is the most effective for acne-prone and oily skin. The acid solution breaks down oils and fats (lipids) in the outer layers of skin, and has a cleansing effect on the pores.
Because the salicylic acid peel only works on the epidermis, damage is more superficial, allowing a shorter recovery time and less painful side effects.
What happens during the treatment?
We prepare and cleanse your face at the start of the procedure, before applying the salicylic peel to your skin.
As the peel starts to work, your skin may feel warm and start to turn red, and you may notice a slight stinging sensation.
The amount of time the peel is left on your skin varies between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on the concentration of the peel and the condition we are treating.
How many treatments will I need?
The number of treatments you need will depend on the severity of your skin condition.
For blackheads, for example, you may see full results after only two or three salicylic acid peels.
For moderate to severe acne, you may need at least six treatments, and several more if your acne is very severe.
For some patients an interval of seven to ten days between peels is sufficient.
However, for most patients, we recommend a wait time of two weeks between procedures, until you have achieved your desired results.
Are salicylic acid peels safe?
There is a potential risk of the salicylic acid solution burning the skin, especially in more sensitive areas, if the concentration in the peel is too high.
The peeling itself is harmless, but you should be careful not to pick at any of the peels or flakes that may appear.
You should not use a salicylic acid on your skin if you are allergic to aspirin or other salicylic compounds.
For this reason, a salicylic acid peel should only be carried out by a qualified practitioner after a full consultation and skin assessment.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, we also recommend you consult with your GP before considering chemical peel treatments.
What are the side effects?
The normal side effects of salicylic acid peel treatment are not severe, and may include:
- flaking skin
- itchy skin
- slight irritation
- sensitivity to the sun
- allergic reaction (for those with an allergy to aspirin).
You may also notice a white ‘frosting’ on your skin following a treatment. This is harmless and is due to the formation of salicylic acid crystals, which you can easily wash or wipe off.
Rare side effects include scarring, changes in pigmentation, blisters, scabbing, crusting or extreme sensitivity.
You won’t necessarily need any time off work after a peel, particularly a light peel, though you may feel self-conscious until the normal side effects have subsided.
After-treatment skin care
You can apply makeup following the treatment session, but we recommend waiting for a few hours.
Do not use a rough sponge or harsh cleanser on the treated areas for at least a week, or until any peeling has disappeared naturally.
We also recommend you avoid strenuous activity for a day or two, as perspiration can cause the treated areas to sting for several hours.