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Are chemical peels ever appropriate for rosacea? The experts weigh in

Is a peel a viable option for rosacea prone skin? We round up some aesthetic practitioners to gage their opinions

When it comes to rosacea, we’re often told less is more and gentle is best, so it’s fair to assume a chemical peel would be a total no-go. But there are instances where chemical peels can be helpful for rosacea, however there are caveats to ensure you’re getting the most out of your treatment and not making things worse.

I was diagnosed with rosacea around five years ago and since then, I’ve learnt and tried a lot to keep mine under control. Now, for the most part, it is under control. One of the elements that helped, controversially, were chemical peels. But when it comes to rosacea, not all peels are created equal–here’s everything you need to know.

What is rosacea? 

Firstly, a quick refresher. Rosacea is a long-term facial skin condition categorised into four sub types: erythematotelangiectatic (presents with redness on the mid-face), papulopustular (presents with pimples around the mid-face, often referred to as acne rosacea), phymatous (presents as a thickening of the skin) and ocular (rosacea of the eyes). Symptoms and severity differ from person to person, as do treatments.

Chemical peels and rosacea 

Chemical peels are used to deeply exfoliate the skin (more than we can achieve at home) to tackle concerns like clogged pores, hyperpigmentation, breakouts and much more. This exfoliation element is what makes it an interesting treatment option for rosacea.

I’m going to preface this by saying chemical peels are not suitable for everyone with rosacea, therefore it’s an absolute must to visit a practitioner who understands the condition in order to get the best results from a peel, and not exacerbate your symptoms. Not all practitioners believe in peels for rosacea, either, so may not be willing to do one.

So if that’s the case, then why do some practitioners offer peels as part of their treatment? They can be helpful due to their “ability to reduce inflammation and redness associated with the condition,” explains Kelly Saynor, Aesthetic Nurse, Clinical Director and Founder of The Perfect Peel.

“Gentle acid exfoliation can remove dead skin cells, helping to unclog pores and reduce the appearance of redness and bumps,” says Saynor. “There is scepticism in the safety of chemical peels for those with rosacea due to the belief that they are too harsh for sensitive skin, however, advancements in these peels have led to treatments that are not only gentle, but can also be beneficial in managing rosacea symptoms,” she adds.

Choosing the right peel is the most important part of the process. Opt for a superficial, low concentration peel with ingredients that work for and not against rosacea. Saynor uses The Perfect Peel, a blend of glutathione (an antioxidant combating oxidative stress), salicylic acid (antimicrobial and great for unclogging pores), and other hard-working ingredients. Other helpful ingredients include mandelic acid and azelaic acid. The pH is also important when choosing a chemical peel—a really low pH can accelerate exfoliation, so the appropriate one for rosacea is imperative.

Peels that aren’t suitable for rosacea 

So is your rosacea up to a peel? “Some types of rosacea won’t be suitable for a chemical peel,” says Saynor. That’s why it really is a case by case basis when it comes to who is a candidate for treatment. This is typically the case for active rosacea that hasn’t had any treatment such as consistent, skin barrier repairing skincare at home.

Ingredients to generally avoid in a chemical peel include glycolic acid, high-concentration salicylic acid and high-strength trichloracetic acid (TCA). “Be careful with strong DIY peels as they pose considerable risks, especially for sensitive or rosacea-affected skin, due to the lack of professional oversight on acid concentration and pH,” Saynor warns.

“A deep peel will likely be too intense for someone with rosacea, as they are already dealing with a compromised skin barrier, and it is important to avoid over-exfoliation,” she adds.

Alternatives to chemical peels for rosacea 

Many practitioners, including Dr. Raquel Amado, EV Expert, Director and Medical Practitioner, believe that starting with other treatments like prescription skincare and LED light therapy are preferable as opposed to peels, which she is generally against when used for rosacea. “I would only consider a peel once the rosacea is controlled, with no papules or pustules,” Dr. Amado explains.

This was certainly the case for me. My rosacea wasn’t flaring with any active breakouts and I had a consistent skincare routine down, meaning I could get the benefits of a peel without the adverse side effects.

Most—if not all—practitioners advise to use peels in combination with a number of other treatments, including LED light therapy, laser, consistent skin barrier supporting skincare, and in some cases, medication.

The key to getting the most out of peels is not overdoing it, otherwise over-exfoliation can lead to more irritation, inflammation and redness, which probably isn’t the result you’re looking for.

Aftercare following a chemical peel for rosacea

Aftercare is crucial in getting the best results from your peel. Your practitioner should give you all the information you need, but there are a few general rules.

Don’t use any actives or acids when you get home and for a period of time (typically a minimum of 10 days) to make sure your skin barrier isn’t compromised. Keep skin moisturised with products you know don’t aggravate your skin. And most importantly, top-up your sunscreen, as UV is a rosacea trigger and you will be more sun sensitive post-peel.

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