September 2018 > Peels Guide

Custom Peel Blends

An esthetician’s guide to combining acid peels

by Elyse Blakey

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, professional chemical peel treatment sales climbed to number three just under Botox® and soft tissue fillers in terms of the top five minimally invasive cosmetic procedures in 2017. Taking into consideration that 1.37 million chemical peels were performed last year alone, staying current and offering the most up to date options to your clients is important to gain a piece of that consumer spending pie.


A chemical peel is a professional skin resurfacing procedure in which an acid or enzymatic solution is applied to the skin in a controlled environment to remove the damaged layer of the epidermis and accelerate cell regeneration. It’s important to remember that estheticians work within a specific scope of practice, which means unless working under a medical license, professional treatments address the epidermal layer of the skin. That being said, how we treat the epidermis will affect what happens in the dermis, as they share the dermal-epidermal junction.

As the dermis is considered the “true age” layer of the skin, stimulating cellular turnover as well as collagen synthesis will improve dermal thickness, resulting in younger looking skin. A chemical peel is one of the least invasive ways to change the appearance of the skin and can help improve so many skin conditions, including acne, acne scarring, pigmentation concerns, fine lines and wrinkles and skin laxity, just to name a few.


It is important to choose the correct peel solution or blend of acids to treat your client’s specific skin condition. Different acids and enzymes treat different conditions. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) work by “ungluing” the bonds that hold the dead skin cells together and result in a more effective exfoliation. Some examples of AHAs are glycolic acid, lactic acid and malic acid. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and is effective because it is oil-soluble and thus enters the pore easily to purge excess oil and dead skin cells lining the pore wall. Retinol, the “gold standard” in anti-aging, stimulates cellular turnover as well as being known to stimulate collagen production. Enzymes, typically derived from fruit such as papaya, pumpkin and pineapple can be very effective at softening and “digesting” dead skin cells, resulting in softer and brighter looking skin.


Combining these ingredients for specific skin conditions and concerns will increase and enhance results. When it comes to aging skin, clients are typically battling fine lines, deeper wrinkles, skin laxity, dullness, loss of radiance and uneven pigmentation can become present. As we age, cellular turnover slows down so anything we can do to accelerate that process is going to be beneficial in achieving younger looking skin. When AHAs are paired with retinol in a peel formulation the combination of exfoliation, increased cellular turnover and synthetization of collagen will target visible signs of aging. As the AHA is working to decrease the layer of dead skin cells, retinol works to stimulate collagen production. In turn, the thickness of the dermis will increase. Wrinkles become softened, fine lines become much less noticeable, pigmentation can become lighter and skin can appear more full, firm and plump. This combination can also be effective in treating acne prone skin. Retin-A was well known for treating acne before its rise to fame as an anti-aging ingredient.


As previously mentioned, when treating acne and acne prone skin, salicylic acid is the real MVP when it comes to chemical peels indicated to address it. Salicylic acid is a BHA and is oil soluble. That means that for skin that is exceptionally oily or acne prone, salicylic acid will enter the pore and purge excess oil and unblock the follicle. Not only does this allow sebum to flow more easily out of the pore, but it also allows oxygen into the pore. Since P. Acnes bacteria cannot thrive in an oxygenated environment, active acne will subside.


It has been said that pigmentation is the new wrinkle, aging the perceived look of the skin up to 10 years. While pigmentation can be a result of UVA and UVB ray exposure, there are also many other factors that contribute to hyperpigmentation concerns. Hormones, medication, inflammation and trauma to the skin can all result in accelerated pigmentation. Lactic acid is an AHA known for lightening pigmentation. Lactic acid works on the surface of the skin to stimulate cell turnover, reduce pigmentation and brighten the appearance of the skin. When it is combined with kojic acid, the results are even better. Kojic acid works as a tyrosinase inhibitor, which means it can slow down melanin production. Lactic acid can also be quite hydrating, so it is also helpful when treating dry, dehydrated and pigmented skin.

Kojic acid works as a tyrosinase inhibitor, which means it can slow down melanin production.


For skin that is dry, dehydrated, sensitive and redness or rosacea prone, a combination of acids might not always be the best choice of treatment. When skin is easily reddened an acid can exacerbate that redness and make the skin more sensitive. However, that skin will still need exfoliation in order combat signs of aging, especially if rosacea with papules and pustules presents. Instead of acids, try turning to enzymes and vitamin C. Fruit enzymes work by gently softening and melting the dead skin cells, both stimulating cellular turnover and ridding the skin’s surface of pore-clogging debris. The addition of vitamin C will support the skin’s ability to fight free radical damage, which can lead to inflammation and further redness and sensitivity.

Fruit enzymes can also be used alone very effectively to gently exfoliate sensitive skin that has become dull due to a buildup of dead skin cells on the epidermis. The uppermost layer of skin is primarily made up of a protein called keratin. Enzyme peels work by hydrolyzing or breaking up this protein, removing dull, dry, damaged surface cells and impurities leaving the skin softer and smoother. Various fruits lend their enzymes to provide different results and benefits. Pumpkin enzymes provide a natural and gentle exfoliation along with skin brightening antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Papaya enzymes, also known as papain, help to exfoliate, moisturize and repair skin. Pineapple enzymes, also referred to as bromelain, help to exfoliate the skin and rebuild collagen for a more youthful complexion. Also, bromelain can provide powerful anti-inflammatory benefits so those enzymes can also be helpful for inflamed acne skin.


For more advanced aging, acne and stubborn pigmentation, more aggressive acid blends can be extremely effective in changing the skin. A traditional Jessner’s solution is a blend of 14 percent Salicylic acid, 14 percent Lactic acid and 14 percent Resorcinol. More common today is a modified Jessner’s solution, which may also be blended with additional anti-aging ingredients. These peel solutions often times tend to be self-neutralizing. These peels can be known to repair moderate to severe acne, rejuvenate aging skin and address and correct pigmentation.

Chemical peels and enzymatic treatments can be very effective in treating all skin types and concerns. In an industry that is always evolving, having a clear understanding and depth of knowledge of all that is available to change clients’ skin will help professionals achieve the ultimate results.