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Chemical vs. Enzyme Peels: How to Choose the Right One for Your Skin Type

May 23, 2021

Chemical vs. Enzyme Peels: How to Choose the Right One for Your Skin Type

Have you noticed that your skin is looking dull, has uneven texture, or is breaking out more than usual? It may be time to try a peel.

Peels are skin treatments known to offer benefits like reducing acne, fading scarring and sun damage, and softening wrinkles and fine lines. Essentially, they provide a ‘reset’ for the skin by exfoliating away the top layer, revealing fresh new skin cells beneath.

If you’ve ever looked into facial peels, you’ve probably come across two different kinds: chemical peels and enzyme peels. While these two types of peels have similar purposes, there are important differences to take into consideration when choosing a treatment for you.

Keep reading to learn all about chemical peels, enzyme peels, and how to choose the right one for your skin type.

The Importance of Exfoliation

Exfoliating regularly is essential to maintaining healthy skin. It can leave skin looking clearer, brighter, and improve the effectiveness of your skincare products by enhancing absorption. Exfoliation can also help to prevent clogged pores, which in turn can lead to fewer breakouts.

Not only is exfoliating essential for your skin’s appearance now, but it can also provide long-term benefits. Over time, regular exfoliation can aid in collagen production and increase skin elasticity, both of which are essential to young, healthy-looking skin.

There are several different ways to exfoliate your skin, including physical scrubs and chemical methods, such as toners or cleansers formulated with chemical exfoliants. However, if you’re looking for something that offers more dramatic results, a peel can be a great option.

Peels are often recommended for those with certain skin conditions, such as:

  • Acne
  • Redness 
  • Large pores
  • Rosacea
  • Scarring
  • Textured skin
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Wrinkles and fine lines

Now, let’s get into the different types of peels and what to consider when choosing one to try on your skin.

Chemical vs. Enzyme Peels

Not all peels are created equal. In general, there are two types to choose from: chemical or enzyme peels. In order to choose the right formula for your skin, it’s important to understand their differences.

What is a Chemical Peel?

Chemical peels exfoliate the skin by using an acid. They vary in strength depending on the potency of their ingredients. Below are a few examples of acids commonly found in chemical peels:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs): These are a group of water-soluble acids that are derived from sugary fruits. Well-known AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, and malic acid, just to name a few. These acids may help with hyperpigmentation, large pores, fine lines, and uneven skin tone. AHAs are commonly found in at-home treatments. 
  • Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs): These types of acids are oil-soluble. They go deep into the skin to dry out excess oil and dead skin cells to unclog pores. Salicylic acid is an example of a BHA, which is often used to treat acne and enlarged pores. 
  • Trichloroacetic acid: Peels that use this acid are known as TCA peels. This type of peel is commonly used to treat discoloration, scarring, and wrinkles. 
  • Phenol: This acid is typically found in deep skin peels, and is known for its ability to penetrate through layers of the skin and break up and remove damaged skin.

Mild versions of chemical peels can be done at home, but for more intense treatments, it’s wise to see a professional. A dermatologist can help to determine exactly what formulation will provide the most effective results for your specific skin type, without being too harsh and causing damage.

So how exactly does this type of peel work? Chemical peels affect two layers of the skin—the epidermis and the dermis. The epidermis is the outer layer that you can see, and the dermis is underneath.

When applied, the peel will remove skin cells from the epidermis. When the peel affects only the top layer of the skin, this is known as a superficial peel. However, there are also more intense treatments that go deeper and remove skin cells from the upper second layer of the skin. These are often called medium-depth or deep peels.

The application and removal process of a chemical peel can vary depending on the formula and technique of the dermatologist. The peel is often applied to thicker areas of the skin first before being applied to thinner, more delicate areas of the skin.

The aftercare of a chemical peel can vary as well, depending on the strength of the peel. Usually, chemical peels cause redness and peeling that can last anywhere from one to two weeks. Specific instructions may be required, such as keeping the skin dry for 24 hours, avoiding sun exposure, and not wearing makeup until the skin has fully healed. 

What is an Enzyme Peel?

Like chemical peels, enzyme peels also help to dissolve dead skin to reveal fresh, healthy skin. However, the main difference between chemical and enzyme peels is that enzyme peels are much more gentle.

Enzyme peels use enzymes from fruits like papaya, pumpkins, pomegranate, and pineapples. Since they are a fruit derivative, this is considered to be a more natural option.

When applied, an enzyme peel will break up dead skin cells, but won’t remove any living skin cells like some chemical peels do. This allows the peel to deeply exfoliate the skin and refine pores, without being overly harsh and stripping.

The benefits provided by enzyme peels are similar to chemical peels, such as improving skin texture, softening fine lines, and fading hyperpigmentation. Some enzyme peels are formulated to provide additional benefits, such as boosting collagen production.

While enzyme peels can offer great results, they don’t provide as deep of a exfoliation as a chemical peel can. If you’re looking for something to help with clearing up stubborn acne or clogged pores, an enzyme peel might not be strong enough.

With that being said, many enzyme peels can be applied at home and be used more frequently—so they can be a great option to start with if you’re hesitant about a chemical peel. Plus, the recovery time isn’t as drastic, so you’ll have less downtime and won’t have to worry as much about your skin being more sensitive to the sun. 

Which Type of Peel Should I Try?

As with any skincare product or treatment, you should always take your specific skin type into consideration when choosing a peel. This will help to ensure the treatment delivers the results you’re looking for without causing any damage to the skin.

A chemical peel might be the right choice if…

  • You don’t have sensitive skin
  • You have oily or acne-prone skin
  • You’re looking for more drastic, long-lasting results
  • You’re willing to start slow and gradually work your way up to a higher strength peel
  • You can deal with 1-2 weeks of redness and skin peeling
  • You’re confident applying an at-home treatment or have a trusted professional you can visit

An enzyme peel might be the right choice if…

  • You have sensitive or dry skin
  • You prefer natural skincare products
  • You’re hesitant to try a chemical peel and are looking for a more gentle alternative
  • You’re looking for a treatment you can apply at home
  • You prefer a quicker recovery process after the peel
  • You’re pregnant or breastfeeding (chemical peels should generally be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women)

Whether you decide to use a chemical or enzyme peel, it’s important to consider the other products you’re using in your routine. For example, you may want to cut back on using retinol, abrasive scrubs, or any other chemical exfoliants to ensure your skin isn’t in a sensitive state prior to the peel. If you go the chemical peel route, your dermatologist may recommend stopping certain medications as well.

Another critical step to follow both before and after getting a peel (and at all times!) is to wear sunscreen. Chemical peels in particular can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so wearing SPF after is critical. Plus, failing to wear sunscreen can reverse the benefits you’re hoping to gain from the peel in the first place.  

At the end of the day, peels can be a great treatment to try if you’re looking to switch up your skincare routine and achieve a glowing, radiant complexion. Before scheduling a treatment or doing one at home, take some time to do your research so you know what to expect. When in doubt, consult with a dermatologist to ensure you’re making the right decision for your skin.

Now, go out and enjoy the glowing benefits of a facial peel!

Explore Exfoliating Skincare from Herbal Dynamics Beauty