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It's an unavoidable truth: As we age, our skin simply doesn't renew itself at quickly as it used to. The result? Dead cells remain on skin's surface, giving it a dull, lifeless appearance. But we don't have to take this lying down! There are several ways to help nature along by sloughing off that top layer of skin and one of the most time- and cost-effective methods is a chemical peel.
While in-office peels contain many of the same ingredients as over-the-counter products -- glycolic, lactic or salicylic acids -- they contain far higher concentrations: 20-30% salicylic acid versus 0.5-2%, for example. By encouraging cell division, these strong exfoliating treatments ensure that there are plenty of young, plump cells on skin's surface, which brightens your complexion and improves skin's texture. Better yet, professional peels can work wonders for specific skin concerns: By speeding cell turnover, they help lighten areas of hyperpigmentation and are also an effective way to unclog pores and improve acne.
Depending on the product, professional chemical peels typically cost anywhere from $100-250, and 5-8 treatments are typically necessary to see optimal results. And remember: Even though your concerns may be cosmetic, these treatments are medical. It's important that chemical peels be performed by experienced physicians -- particularly if you have dark skin, which requires lower concentrations of glycolic or salicylic acid to avoid worsening irregular pigmentation.
Going to the dermatologist is best, but that's not always an option. What to do? A new generation of at-home peels -- many invented by dermatologists -- can help bring professional treatments to you. They aren't as powerful as professional peels, but they'll still go a long way to renew your skin:
Murad Intensive Resurfacing Peel
Dr. Brandt Laser A-Peel
DDF 7-Day Radiance Peel Kit
Better yet, these at-home peels can work wonders for your hands and neck, too! Exposed to the sun as much as your face, those delicate areas tend to get less pampering and less sun protection... which can age you prematurely. Peels, though, stimulate collagen synthesis and exfoliate dark patches and sun spots to restore a youthful appearance to your neck and hands.
Don't have time even to pick up an at-home peel? Try this secret weapon, a favorite of mine and many of my colleagues: Spread a thick layer of your regular retinoid (Retin-A, Differin and/or Tazarac are among the most popular of these vitamin A-based topical creams) on your face. In 3-5 days your skin will start peeling, but by day 6 you'll be positively radiant (so plan your schedule accordingly!).
Just a few words of caution: Whichever option you choose, remember that peels -- from the professional versions right on down to my retinoid shortcut -- increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. After you've had a peel, it's more important than ever to slather on sunscreen and avoid the sun as much as possible. And resist the urge to over-exfoliate: If you use an at-home peel, for example, you don't also need an exfoliating scrub. At-home peels shouldn't be used more than once or twice a week (less if you have sensitive skin).
Wishing you great skin!