Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation - Detailed Guide
Chemical peels for hyperpigmentation are very effective. There’s a wide variety of acids with different properties and concentrations. Let’s get into it.
Hyperpigmentation can be caused by numerous factors at different stages of life. Although these dark patches of skin aren’t anything to worry about, they can affect your confidence and make you self-conscious.
So naturally, there has to be a solution to a problem this common, right? Introducing: chemical peels for hyperpigmentation – skincare treatments that help improve the overall appearance of the skin by removing the top skin layer and any hyperpigmentation with it.
But to understand how chemical peels help even out your skin tone and fight these imperfections, first we have to explain hyperpigmentation and why it happens in the first place.
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What Is Hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is, basically, patches of darker skin. The cause of these dark spots, blemishes, and scars are clusters of melanin.
Melanin is a pigment our bodies naturally produce. We’re born with a certain amount of melanocytes, unique cells that create the melanin pigments, but their quantity can become unbalanced throughout life.
Sun exposure, skin wounds, and hormonal changes are the most common factors that can throw off the production of melanin. And once excessive production is triggered, it leads to hyperpigmentation.
The main function of melanin is to protect our skin against external damage. And given that it’s also associated with skin color, once it starts overproduction to protect our skin, the patch will take on a darker color.
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What Do Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation Do?
A chemical peel for hyperpigmentation helps diminish it and even out the skin tone.
By penetrating deep into the skin, chemicals break up clusters of melanin that are responsible for the appearance of dark spots. The top layers of skin are stripped away during a chemical peel, allowing for the formation of new, healthy skin beneath.
Removing extra melanin from the skin lessens the visibility of dark skin patches. New skin should have a more uniform distribution of color, and blend better with the surrounding skin.
It can take several sessions, though. The extent to which the hyperpigmentation is reduced depends on the concentration of the peel, as well as the severity of the condition. But more on that later.
You can learn more about chemical peels in this guide.
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Types of Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation
Chemical peels for hyperpigmentation come in a wide variety of potencies and types. They’re categorized according to their intensity. There are 3 categories: light (AHAs, BHAs), medium depth (TCA, Jessner’s solution), and deep (Phenol).
Let’s get into each one in more detail.
Light Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation
Light chemical peels don’t penetrate that deep into the skin, making them the safest choice out of all chemical peels for hyperpigmentation. Don’t worry – surface level doesn’t mean it’s not effective!
There are a few different acids in this group. The main division is into AHAs and BHAs – which you might’ve even seen in some of your skincare products, in very low concentrations. The most common are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid.
Glycolic acid peels target mild cases of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Since it is a light chemical peel, it doesn’t penetrate deep into the skin. It’s milder than other AHA peels. This makes it safer, as there’s less risk of side effects.
It can be used at a range of 20% to 50%, depending on the skin condition.
Lactic acid peels are perfect for those that haven’t done chemical peels before, and those with sensitive skin. It’s even milder than glycolic acid and can be used in concentrations as low as 5-15%.
Although it doesn’t penetrate the skin at a deeper level, this acid has shown to be effective in treating dark spots and evening out skin tone.
Salicylic acid peel is a BHA peel that treats acne hyperpigmentation leftover from acne. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s well suited to dark spots caused by inflammation (like those caused by acne).
Salicylic acid has shown good results for treating dark spots at a light to medium strength, 10–30% concentration.
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Medium Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation
Medium chemical peels include TCA (trichloroacetic acid), Jessner’s solution (which consists of a combination of salicylic acid, resorcinol, lactic acid, and ethanol) as well as higher concentrations of glycolic and other light acids. But the most commonly used are:
TCA peels can be used in different concentrations depending on how dark the dark spots are.
Medium to deep TCA peels are very effective in buffing away dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Light hyperpigmentation can be treated with 10–15% concentration while more than surface level spots might require a stronger 20–35% concentration.
Since it penetrates deeper, it’s not well-suited for clients with darker skin tones.
A combination of salicylic acid, resorcinol, lactic acid, and ethanol.
It is a medium-depth chemical peel. It is very effective in treating melasma and reversing hyperpigmentation. It also helps lighten and even out skin tone which is why it works great in reducing the appearance of dark patches, age spots, and acne scars.
This solution is usually used in a 30%–35% concentration to achieve medium-deep peel.
Image source: Freepik
Deep Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation
Deep chemical peels are very aggressive treatments, meaning they carry the most side effects and risk, but also show the best results.
Despite that, these peels will probably not be the first choice for treating hyperpigmentation. With the exception of really severe cases, it’s always best to do multiple weaker peels than go straight for a deep peel.
Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, is the most aggressive deep chemical peel. It is extremely effective at treating severe sun damage, however, it has severe side effects as well.
Deep chemical peels also include some of the acids already mentioned but in high concentrations.
So, What is the Best Chemical Peel for Hyperpigmentation?
Generally, the best chemical peels for hyperpigmentation are considered to be light to medium concentration ones. Most often, the recommendations are one of the following 3:
- Glycolic acid
- Salicylic acid
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)
Each acid contains certain properties which make it more beneficial for some skin types over others. So, since it’s all so individual, the best chemical peel is the one that works for your skin needs.
But the type of acid isn’t the only thing to be considered. The effectiveness is influenced by the concentration of the peeling agent as well.
Dark spots can be treated with a lighter peel, although deeper peels with larger concentrations may produce more noticeable improvement. Deep peels are suitable only for very severe cases, as they carry severe risks and side effects, and require more healing time and aftercare.
Another thing to note is that while being well informed is great, you can’t decide on which peel you’ll get by yourself. Ultimately that is decided by your technician during the consultations.
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Can Chemical Peels Cause Hyperpigmentation?
Chemical peels can cause hyperpigmentation. They trigger the body’s regeneration process, which includes some inflammation. The inflammation further triggers the production of excess melanin which can lead to hyperpigmentation.
The likelihood of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation occurring is higher for stronger concentrations of chemical peels. So, the weaker the peel, the less likely it is to cause further hyperpigmentation.
Another way chemical peels can technically cause hyperpigmentation is if you ignore warnings about sunscreen. It needs to be applied regularly during the recovery period in order to prevent sun-induced dark spots.
The best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation, in the sense that it’s the least likely to cause any post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, is the salicylic acid peel because it’s anti-inflammatory.
Best Chemical Peel for Dark Skin
When speaking about hyperpigmentation caused by a chemical peel we need to mention the potential risks of chemical peel for dark skin.
Since darker skin types (Fitzpatrick IV-VI skin types) are more prone to hyperpigmentation, they should avoid most chemical peels.
Proneness to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is due to greater production of melanin. And as that is the body’s response to inflammation, aggressive treatments are more likely to cause additional hyperpigmentation.
From the limited choices, light BHA chemical peels, such as salicylic acid, are the best chemical peels for hyperpigmentation on dark skin.
Salicylic acid is mild and anti-inflammatory, which means it’ll lessen any post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that could show up as a side effect. Other possibilities include glycolic and azelaic acid, which are light and safe enough for darker skin tones, yet still effective.
Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation – Main Takeaways
The overproduction of melanin results in hyperpigmentation – which chemical peels efficiently treat. They remove the top layer of the skin and minimize the appearance of pigmentation. After peeling and healing, the new skin will be more evenly pigmented.
However you need to take proper care of it in order to reduce the risk of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.
The severity of hyperpigmentation determines the concentration of the chemical peel – which can pose a problem for darker-skinned clients. The best chemical peel for hyperpigmentation on dark skin is salicylic acid, as it has anti-inflammatory properties, reducing the risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which they’re more prone to.
While for hyperpigmentation chemical peel is a very effective option, you can also look into microneedling, especially if you want to avoid a chemical peel for dark skin.