Skin hyperpigmentation refers to several conditions in which areas of the skin become darker than the surrounding areas. Although topical lighteners form the foundation of skin hyperpigmentation treatment, chemical facial peels can bring improved cosmetic outcomes as a complementary and maintenance therapy.
A chemical peel is a technique that utilizes a chemical solution to ‘peel off’ the topmost layer of skin, removing discolorations and promoting new skin growth. Peels can be used to improve the appearance of acne scars, melasma, sun-damaged skin, wrinkles, and several other conditions. They can also be used to lighten dark spots.
Chemical peels for lightening dark spots use chemical agents that enable the removal of the skin pigment melanin. The type of peel, its concentration, the number of coats, and the duration of application are the main factors that influence the effectiveness of treatment. These same factors affect the likelihood of developing adverse effects, such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Individuals who have dark skin are at a higher risk of developing PIH and should consult with their dermatologist to determine if a chemical peel is right for them.
The most effective treatments sequence peels with a topical prescription creams. Priming the skin with a topical cream for at least four weeks prior to peeling is an essential part of treatment. The priming ensures uniform penetration of the peel and also reduces the risk of PIH.
There are three types of chemical peels. All peels should be combined with topical dark spot treatments to improve efficacy. These topical treatments, also known as bleaching creams contain a combination of ingredients that are applied to the skin to either remove dark patches, such as melasma, or reduce the amount of skin pigment.
Superficial peels penetrate only the outermost layer of the skin to remove pigment. Superficial peels provide improvement with the least risk of complications. This is because stronger and deeper peeling agents cause more inflammation, which has the potential to worsen pigmentation.
Superficial peels generally take a week or more to heal.
Medium depth peels remove the outer and middle layers of the skin to improve the appearance of age spots, skin discoloration, and more. Medium depth peels can be repeated between three and nine months to maintain a clear complexion.
Medium depth peels generally take one to two weeks to heal.
Deep peels remove damaged skin cells in the lower dermal layer of the skin to improve the appearance of sun damage, age spots, and more. These peels require both pretreatment and several weeks’ recovery time. However, the effects of deep peels may last as long as ten years.
Deep peels generally take two to three weeks to heal.
The superficial peels most frequently used to lighten dark spots are alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic and lactic acid), beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid) and trichloroacetic acid (TCA).
Post-treatment maintenance with topical formulations and sunscreen is necessary to prevent skin discoloration from recurring.
In addition to using maintenance creams and sunscreen, Kirsch Dermatology recommends the following post-treatment skincare tips: