The chemist's guide to.
Chemical cosmetic procedures are increasingly popular among those keen to reverse the aging process
Cleopatra is said to have bathed in sour milk, not because Egypt hadn't caught on to pasteurisation, but because sour milk contains lactic acid. This was an ancient form of the chemical peel, the cosmetic procedure used to straighten out wrinkles or even out pigmentation. Different strengths of acid are applied to the face to burn away the top layer, leaving new, wrinkle and blemish-free skin underneath.
Mild peel solutions apply alphahydroxy acids (AHAs - found in fruit) and trichloroacetic acid (TCA) directly to the face. This causes two or three minutes of burning and stinging after which the top layers of cells dry and peel off over several days. Meanwhile, fresh, tight new skin forms.
Phenol is used for the most severe peels. After the acid is applied and removed, the face becomes red and swollen, a leather-like scab forms and peels off a week later to reveal first red, then pinkish skin. And no wrinkles.
Scarring, burns or permanent skin colour change are possible.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
British Association of Dermatologists
External links will open in a new browser window