The Ultimate Black Girl’s Guide to Chemical Peels

People of color must take added precautions.

We all remember that iconic scene from Sex And The City. In it, Samantha staring a mirror, beet red from a chemical peel gone wrong. And while that’s not exactly the most accurate depiction of the aftermath of a chemical peel these days, years removed from the origination of the treatment, for Black skin, the risk of more traumatic results still remains. That’s why people of color must take added precautions when deciding to try chemical peels out. 

Experts urge the same, insisting that the risks of a chemical peel gone awry are much higher for Black skin, and require an increased level of care. So ahead, check out everything you need to know about chemical peels for Black skin, from which ones are best for melanin-heavy complexions, to how frequently you should get them. 

What is a chemical peel?

A chemical peel is a skin treatment where a solution is applied to the skin, to improve the appearance of acne, discoloration, tone, texture, and fine lines and wrinkles. “There are three main categories of peels,” says Ife Rodney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist. “Superficial, medium, and deep. While superficial peels only turn over the very top layers of skin, medium and deep peels go further down into the skin to treat wrinkles and advanced signs of aging.”

What should people with Black skin know before getting a chemical peel?

While everywhere we turn the advertising of peels is rampant, with Groupons galore promising great skin after a rigid peeling, the reality is that for deeper skin, walking into your nearest spa for treatment isn’t necessarily a reality. “A major risk of chemical peels for Black skin is worsening of dark spots or hyperpigmentation of the skin,” Dr. Rodney says. “Because this risk of skin discoloration is much greater in dark skin, it is very important that you see a dermatologist with expertise in the use of peels in Black skin. Before your peel, be sure to discuss all of your skincare products —both over-the-counter and prescription skin medications—with your doctor.” 

chemical peels black skin

For Black skin, specifically, Dr. Rodney suggests superficial peels for the most optimal results. “These are one of the most common procedures in Black skin,” she says. “These consist of alpha and beta-hydroxy acids—AHAs/BHAs—that break the bonds that hold the skin cells together.” Superficial peels also dissolve oil and debris within clogged pores, shrink enlarged pores, and help to lighten dark spots. “Because these peels only work at the top layer of the skin (the epidermis) and do not break through to deeper layers, they are less likely to cause scarring and discoloration,” Dr. Rodney says.  

How often should you get a peel? 

How often you get a peel actually depends on the specific type and strength of the peel.”Very mild peels, that help to brighten your complexion, but oftentimes do not result in visible peeling or downtime, may be done as often as every two weeks,” Dr. Ife says. “Other superficial peels, that treat acne, discoloration, and pore size are usually done no more than once a month.”

What’s most important, however, is how you prepare and care for the skin both before and after the peel. “For two weeks before your peel, you should avoid any harsh scrubs, facials, or exfoliating procedures like microdermabrasion,” Dr. Rodney says. “These remove the top layers of the skin, and increase the strength of the peel, making it more likely to result in burning and discoloration. The same goes for retinol products and some acne medications.” She emphasizes that certain ingredients like retinol and AHAs/BHAs exfoliate and thin the surface layers of the skin, making Black skin more likely to get burnt by the peel.

After the peel, Dr. Rodney says to stay away and protected from the sun. “After the peel, the most important step is to use a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen multiple times throughout the day,” she says. “This should be done for at least two weeks, as it helps to protect the newly formed delicate skin from the sun’s harmful rays.” And while it may be tempting, Dr. Rodney urges not to pick at the peeling skin. “Instead, just continually moisturize the skin, and let it peel off on its own,” she says. 

So, don’t approach peels with fear. Instead, approach them with care, and make sure you’re seeking out experts trained in our skin.

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