Peel me a Grape!

Healthy skin is the most beautiful thing in the world; and it usually belongs to the very young. Although I haven’t voluntarily tanned myself in almost 25 years and I’m a faithful, year-round sunscreen addict, my skin isn’t in great condition. While the scars from my bout with acne during my teen years have mostly faded, I have discolouration from hormone therapy to treat polycystic ovarian disease and broken capillaries due to sun exposure, cold winters and blowing my nose a lot during allergy season. I’ve also noticed increased dryness on my forehead, and areas where whiteheads are tending to congregate.

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been taking steps to improve the condition of my skin. In that time, I’ve had two lactic acid peels, a microdermabrasion treatment and I bought the Avon Anew Clinical 2-Step Facial Peel kit to use at home.

As we age, our skin cells don’t turn over as often as when we were younger and collagen breaks down. This leads to skin that looks dull, clogged pores and breakouts. Collagen loss is what causes wrinkles. Sun exposure, most of which we get during childhood, adds to this.

Peels, whether acid-based -- salicylic, glycolic, lactic -- or mechanical -- lasers, dermabrasion or microdermabrasion -- offer deep exfoliation, eliminate acne scars, can diminish the appearance of some wrinkles and hyperpigmentation and, with continual use over time, MAY speed up cell turnover and stimulate collagen production.

High-tech lasers are best for helping to diminish fine lines and age spots. Depending on the type of laser used, you can have dramatic results requiring long healing times, or more subtle refinements requiring minimal healing. A CO2 laser vaporizes several layers of skin and can require up to three months of healing time. However, this is an effective treatment for deeper wrinkles and severe acne scarring.

Thermescent laser treatments, also known as “Cool-Touch” treatments, use a cooling spray and shorter laser pulses to stimulate collagen production in areas of fine lines. Intense Pulsed Light -- IPL -- treatments are not lasers as they use broad-spectrum light to deliver high levels of light power to the skin in short bursts. IPL is effective in treating rosecea and hyperpigmentation.

A co-worker recently underwent three treatments of IPL to treat redness around her nose and cheeks. She is very happy with the results and has noticeably clearer skin. When I quizzed her on the sensation during the treatment, she described it as hundreds of pinpricks as once, but not too painful.

Dermabrasion and microdermabrasion are two entirely separate procedures, the first being a medical procedure that should only be undertaken by a plastic surgeon in a clinical setting, while the second can be done in a spa setting.

During a dermabrasion treatment, the doctor uses a rough wire spinning brush to remove the outer layers of skin. If you have acne scarring, your doctor may choose dermaplaning, using an oscillating blade to skim off the outer layers of skin. In each instance, the aim is to create even texture, eliminating pockmarks or deep scars. These procedures are done under sedation and require months of healing, though you can return to work after two weeks.

Microdermabrasion uses fine particles of crystal jetted against the skin then whisked away by a vacuum to deeply exfoliate superficial layers. One week after my first treatment, I still notice that my skin is smoother, although I did not find any reduction in the brown patches on my cheeks. The esthetician went over my skin three times, using different strengths of the jet. It wasn’t very painful, but more pronounced than the medical euphemism “discomfort”.

I have noticed improvement in the dark patches with the acid peels, however. Glycolic acid is the most common of the light peels available. Using a sugar cane or fruit sugar derivative, these products loosen the top layers of skin to allow them to be shed more rapidly, leaving fresher, healthier-looking skin. The Avon kit offers the minimum level of glycolic acid recommended for use at 10%. Spas and dermatologists offer higher concentrations of acid peels with better results. My esthetician uses 30% lactic acid on my skin and after two treatments, the dark patches I have were reduced by about 10 per cent. Since adding the Avon kit to my skin care routine, I’ve also had fewer breakouts.

These mild peels can be effective in fighting acne. Salicylic peels done at a spa or dermatologist’s office are also recommended.

Deeper chemical peels are available from dermatologists and plastic surgeons. Trichloroacetic acid is a medium-depth peel that can smooth out surface wrinkles, correct pigmentation problems and remove superficial blemishes. It is one of the few chemical treatments recommended for darker skin. However, recovery can take several days and may require pain medication.

The deepest chemical peel available is with phenol. This acid can treat coarse wrinkles and even remove pre-cancerous lesions. However, it can noticeably lighten skin and should not be considered by those with darker skin tones. Phenol peels are so serious that they should not be done on anyone with heart trouble, and patients will require assistance at home afterward as their eyes may be swollen shut and they will be restricted to a liquid diet for a few days.

All of these procedures require diligent use of sun block products in high concentrations of SPF. Because new skin is being exposed, it will be highly sensitive to sun exposure.

Those of you with darker skin tones should also carefully research peel procedures before having them done. One of the reasons to have peels is to even out skin tone; you want to make sure that the one you choose won’t exaggerate or cause hyper-pigmentation.

Peels won’t magically take 20 years off your looks or give your face the softness of a skinless grape, but they can be a useful addition to your beauty regimen.