A salicylic acid peel is a type of chemical peel that is typically used to improve the appearance and condition of facial skin. As with other such chemical treatments, salicylic acid peels are applied onto the skin, left on for a period of time, and then removed. Afterward, the damaged top layers of skin typically peel away over the next few days and are replaced by newer, smoother skin. A salicylic acid peel is often used to treat acne, improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, cleanse the pores, and improve skin tone and texture. It can also help to balance out the skin's oil production.
Salicylic acid is a type of synthetic acid that is classified as a beta hydroxy acid. Like aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, it is synthesized from the bark of a willow tree and is similar in chemical structure. Also like aspirin, salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, making this peel less likely than others to leave the skin irritated and inflamed after treatment.
People with acne, oily skin, or even sensitive skin may benefit more from a salicylic acid peel than from another type due to its unique chemical properties. Salicylic acid is soluble in oil, generally allowing it to penetrate and remove layers of oil on the skin. This also typically allows the acid to penetrate the skin deeper and clear out the pores, often diminishing the amount of acne on a person's skin. Also, its anti-inflammatory properties generally allow even people with sensitive skin to tolerate a salicylic acid peel.
Prior to having a salicylic acid peel, the skin is typically cleansed thoroughly. The salicylic solution is then applied and usually left on the skin for ten to 15 minutes. Next, the acid solution is removed and a cream, lotion, or cold compress may be applied to the skin to alleviate any discomfort that the person may be feeling.
Following treatment with a salicylic acid peel, a person's skin may appear red and begin to flake. Over the few days following treatment, the top layers of skin typically peel or flake away. During this time, it is advised that the patient avoid going into the sun as much as possible, and always apply sunscreen, because the newer, fresh skin is more susceptible to sun damage. The patient should also generally avoid smoking as this can irritate the new skin as well.