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Tips, contraindications for superficial chemical peels reviewed



– Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, says she’s generally “risk averse,” but when it comes to superficial chemical peels, she’s in her comfort zone.

Superficial peeling is “one of the most common cosmetic procedures that I do,” Dr. Woolery-Lloyd, director of the skin of color division in the dermatology department at the University of Miami, said at the Pigmentary Disorders Exchange Symposium.

In her practice, she most commonly uses chemical peels to treat patients with hyperpigmentation and melasma, but she also uses this treatment for patients with textural issues, superficial acne scars, keratosis pilaris, acne on the face and trunk, photoaging, and actinic damage.

Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, director of the Skin of Color Division in the dermatology department at the University of Miami MedscapeLive!

Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd

Contraindications are an active bacterial infection, open wounds, and active herpes simplex virus. “If someone looks like they even have a remnant of a cold sore, I tell them to come back,” she said.

Setting expectations for patients is critical, Dr. Woolery-Lloyd said, as a series of superficial peels is needed before the desired results are evident.

The peel she uses most is salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, at a strength of 20%-30%. “It’s very effective on our acne patients,” she said at the meeting, provided by MedscapeLIVE! “If you’re just starting with peels, I think this is a very safe one. You don’t have to time it, and you don’t have to neutralize it,” and at lower concentrations, is “very safe.”

Dr. Woolery-Lloyd provided these other tips during her presentation:

  • Even superficial peels can be uncomfortable, she noted, so she keeps a fan nearby to use when needed to help with discomfort.
  • Find the peel you’re comfortable with, master that peel, and don’t jump from peel to peel. Get familiar with the side effects and how to predict results.
  • Stop retinoids up to 7 days before a peel. Consider placing the patient on hydroquinone before the chemical peel to decrease the risk of hyperpigmentation.
  • Before the procedure, prep the skin with acetone or alcohol. Applying petrolatum helps protect around the eyes, alar crease, and other sensitive areas, “or anywhere you’re concerned about the depth of the peel.”
  • Application with rough gauze helps avoid the waste that comes with makeup sponges soaking up the product. It also helps add exfoliation.
  • Have everything ready before starting the procedure, including (depending on the peel), a neutralizer or soapless cleanser. Although peels are generally safe, you want to be able to remove one quickly, if needed, without having to leave the room.
  • Start with the lowest concentration (salicylic acid or glycolic acid) then titrate up. Ask patients about any reactions they experienced with the previous peel before making the decision on the next concentration.
  • For a peel to treat hyperpigmentation, she recommends one peel about every 4 weeks for a series of 5-6 peels.
  • After a peel, the patient should use a mineral sunscreen; chemical sunscreens will sting.


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