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Ask Upkeep: Are Chemical Peels Safe for Dark Skin?

The internet is full of outdated information about the safety of many treatments. Here’s what you need to know about chemical peels.

July 28, 2023

Chemical peels are tried-and-true skin treatments that address common concerns including hyperpigmentation, acne scarring, sun damage, dullness, and fine lines and wrinkles. They work by applying an acid to the skin which causes old skin to peel away, hence the name. But for a while, those with melanin-rich skin have been discouraged from getting chemical peels. How much of that is true, and how much of that is outdated? Keep reading to learn which chemical peels are safe and effective for all skin tones–the truth may surprise you.

Do chemical peels damage dark skin? 

While it used to be the case that chemical peels were not recommended for melanin-rich skin, things have changed. The consensus is that light peels are the best option for darker skin. But why is this the case? Chemical peels that penetrate the skin more deeply can generate heat within the skin that’s harmful for darker skin tones. Deeper peels can lead to either hyperpigmentation or the opposite–pigment getting stripped out of the skin, but not in the brightening way you might want for something like melasma. This is why people with medium to deep skin tones have been advised against doing peels. But there are options for chemical peels that operate on the surface layers of skin. These treatments address concerns like uneven skin tone, dullness, and texture. These are called light chemical peels.

What chemical peels are best for dark skin? 

Like we said before, light peels are best for those with dark skin. Light peels affect the outermost layers of skin, called the epidermis. Medium peels are not recommended for dark skin. Here are some of the peels that are good for melanin-rich skin: 

Mandelic acid: This acid is preferred for deeper skin tones because it’s gentle and acts on the surface level of skin. However, if you are allergic to tree nuts, steer clear because it comes from almonds. Good for mild hyperpigmentation, oily skin, acne, and congestion.

Glycolic acid: oldie but a goodie. Good for hyperpigmentation and acne scarring, fine lines and wrinkles, dullness, and sun damage.

Lactic acid: good for sensitive skin, a peel that incorporates lactic acid is good for mild hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and skin texture.

Salicylic acid: this mild acid is good for treating acne, deep cleansing of pores, and reducing appearance of large pores. Sometimes salicylic acid is applied prior to other peels to deeply cleanse and prepare the skin. 

Light peels will all require several treatment sessions for best results. But the upside of a light peel? Recovery time and side effects are both minimal. You will experience some soreness and sensitivity, as well as skin peeling. But these tend to resolve in a matter of days. 

It’s very important to follow your provider’s aftercare instructions, and to avoid sun exposure. This is because your skin is very sensitive to the sun afterwards, and you don’t want to create any new sun damage after you’ve worked so hard to make your skin look better in the first place. If you are careful about protecting your skin post-treatment you’ll see much better results. 

Where to get a chemical peel near me? 

If you’re looking for a treatment provider for chemical peels, it’s super important to go to someone qualified and experienced—a licensed medical professional, in other words. We created the Upkeep app to connect you to the best medspas in your area. You can book treatments right in the app, too, without having to call around and check availability. It’s easy and simple, because nothing should stand in the way of you achieving your best skin. Download Upkeep today, and book your chemical peel consultation with confidence.

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