In 1958 two renegade plastic surgeons in Miami, Florida, noticed that people with flash burns to their faces healed with fewer wrinkles. At the same time, they learned of women in Hollywood salons who painted the faces of their clients with a chemical that erased wrinkles.
The young physicians experimented with deep chemical peeling on animals and then on themselves. Twenty-nine years later, when I was Dr. Thomas Baker’s cosmetic surgery fellow, he still illustrated that story by showing the spot on his arm where he bravely performed the first deep chemical peel.
The results were so dramatic and so revolutionary that other plastic surgeons refused to believe them. It wasn’t until the doctors brought a patient to the annual meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons that other plastic surgeons accepted the technique. Baker and Dr. Howard Gordon opened up an entire field of plastic surgery that culminated in 556,000 chemical peels in the United States in 2005!
Peels and Lasers Are Methods of Fooling the Skin into Healing
Virtually all methods of nonsurgical wrinkle control have one thing in common: they wound the skin. This starts a complex series of events, which ultimately leads to healing. The skin heals by making new epidermis and shrinking the dermis. The body races to close the wound before bacteria can enter and cause infection.
Shrinking skin, however, can lead to deformities. But the body values life before function. When surgeons injure the skin to decrease wrinkles, it responds by pumping out new collagen and elastin. Virtually every known chemical and almost every known electronic device that decreases wrinkling injures the skin and fools it into healing and shrinking. And so, the science of wrinkle reduction is the science of wound healing.
Deep Chemical Peels
Deep chemical peels use a solution containing phenol (the substance in Chloraseptic sore-throat spray) mixed with water, the caustic agent croton oil, and soap. The mixture is applied to the face slowly, because rapid peeling can cause irregular heart rhythms.
The peel is painless because the phenol numbs the skin in much the same way that Chloraseptic soothes a sore throat. Phenol is actually carbolic acid, an antiseptic that was first used by Joseph Lister. It causes the upper layers of skin to peel off. The face swells like a pumpkin for about a week. But when the skin finally heals, it is remarkably smoother.
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